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  • Lancashire v Birmingham, T20 Blast final, Edgbaston

Bears clinch T20 title despite Flintoff heroics

George Dobell at Edgbaston
August 23, 2014 « Giroud a doubt for Champions League crunch clash | Day 6: Maria Ho eliminated, 68 left »
Birmingham Bears celebrate being crowned T20 Blast champions © Getty Images
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Warwickshire 181 for 5 (Evans 53) beat Lancashire 177 for 8 (Brown 55, Hannon-Dalby 3-31) by four runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

In the end, it came down to a battle between the past and the future. With the bat we had Andrew Flintoff, an England allrounder with an illustrious past, on the ground where he had produced some of his most memorable displays. With the ball we had Chris Woakes, an England allrounder at the start of his international career, on his home ground. Fourteen were required from the final over.

They are very different characters. While Flintoff appears to enjoy the spotlight, Woakes is modest and soft spoken. While Flintoff's reputation is all extravagant sixes and spells of blistering pace, Woakes' is about maintaining pressure and contributing to partnerships. While Flintoff gained the biggest cheers of the night, Woakes was quietly appreciated by supporters who have come to trust his ability to perform, with bat and ball, under pressure. You might even say that Flintoff is the showman and Woakes the diligent clerk.

It seemed fate had already decreed this was to be Flintoff's night. He had already taken a key wicket, Ian Bell, with his first ball of the match having only been drafted into the game as a late replacement when Kabir Ali suffered a recurrence of a shoulder problem. And he had just heaved the final two balls he had faced in the previous owner for six. Once he got himself back on strike by rushing through for a bye from the first ball of the final over it seemed destiny might be calling.

Andrew Flintoff took the wicket of Ian Bell with his very first ball © PA Photos
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But Woakes, bowling with good pace and nailing his yorker time and again, was not to be denied. Perhaps Flintoff, in his prime, might have managed to find the boundary from one of the next three balls. Perhaps Flintoff, before the knee trouble and the five years away from the game, might have been able to turn for a second run from the fourth ball of the final over to get back on strike.

Instead, it was the younger man who prevailed. Woakes, holding his nerve and a ball becoming more slippery in the evening dew, hardly gave the older man a chance. He conceded only nine from the over - eight from the bat - and Birmingham won the NatWest T20 Blast for the first time.

It will be little consolation to Lancashire right now but, one day in the future, they will reflect on their part on a wonderfully entertaining day of T20 cricket. We saw powerful, inventive batting, we saw skilful, clever bowling, we saw - one or two dropped chances aside - some committed, athletic fielding. And all in front of a good-humoured, full house. If T20 is the shop window to the sport, this must be considered a thoroughly successful day.

In the shorter term, this result will hurt. They have now lost three finals and 11 semi-finals since 1998 and may feel that they enjoyed little fortune. Certainly Paul Horton might consider himself unfortunate to have been given out caught behind, though that is no excuse for his unusually sustained act of dissent towards the umpire that followed. Disciplinary action in the form of a Level Two charge is inevitable. "I was out of order," Horton admitted afterwards. "Sometimes these things happen in the heat of the moment, but it's no excuse. I showed dissent and I've accepted my penalty."

The evening started well for Lancashire, after an accomplished performance in the semi-final. Flintoff dismissed Bell early and Steven Croft delivered four of the most frugal overs of the evening with his mix of offspin and floaters. Birmingham thrashed 63 from the Powerplay overs, as an out-of-sorts James Anderson took particular punishment, but could then add only 60 in 10 overs in mid-innings as Lancashire's spinners gradually took control .

But 58 runs from the final four overs of the Birmingham innings changed everything. Man of the Match was Birmingham's Laurie Evans who, after a slow start, contributed a brilliant half-century. Having laboured for 16 balls over his first 11 runs, his next 13 brought 42 as he demonstrated his power, his fast hands and his excellent eye in hitting four sixes in 10 balls at one stage. An England T20 call-up in the coming days should notbe ruled out.

It is remarkable how fortunes can fluctuate. Only a couple of weeks ago, Evans was close to leaving the club for a fresh start at Nottinghamshire. And, when he dropped a relatively straightforward chance off Karl Brown when the batsman had scored just one, he feared, in his words "I was going to be the villain of the day, the man who dropped the T20 trophy."

But there were several heroes in the Birmingham performance. There was the captain, Varun Chopra, who remained cool throughout the Flintoff barrage and contributed 30 brisk runs of his own. There was Rikki Clarke, the great England allrounder than never was, contributing solid performances with bat and ball. There was Boyd Rankin, who bowled with pace and hostility on a sluggish surface to put the squeeze on the opposition. There was Woakes who, apart from his nerveless final over, dismissed the dangerous Brown with a yorker

And there was the gentle-paced giant Oliver Hannon-Dalby, who might not have played had Birmingham had a full-strength side to pick from and, until he conceded 12 from his final two balls, had bowled with admirable calm and control.

This victory is notable, even for a club of Warwickshire's size and history. Not only do they have a modest record in the format, and had not reached Finals Day since the first year of the competition in 2003, but they were without two of their leading seamers (Chris Wright and Keith Barker) and were unsettled by the news earlier this week that the club captain, Jim Troughton, had been forced to retire due to a long-standing back injury. They also took the brave and somewhat controversial decision to drop Jonathan Trott from their side.

Furthermore, it seemed they were destined to be knocked out in the early stages. Had Nottinghamshire not beaten Yorkshire in the final group game, Warwickshire's late run of good results in winning their final three group games would have been irrelevant. As it was, they have now won six T20 games in succession and, for the first time, are domestic T20 champions.

It is 20 years since a Warwickshire side coached by Bob Woolmer and including Brian Lara and Dermot Reeve won three major trophies in the season. While it is probably premature to talk of a repeat this season, it is worth noting that Warwickshire remain in contention in both of the other competitions.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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