Words by Brian Halford, ECB Reporters Network
Will Smeed hit the first hundred in The Hundred as Birmingham Phoenix beat reigning champions Southern Brave by 53 runs in a sun-soaked Second City.
On NHS Heroes Night at Edgbaston, with NHS workers and support staff invited along as a thank you for their brilliant work, a 14,000 crowd was royally entertained as Smeed socked an unbeaten 101 (50 balls) to lift his side to 176 for four.
The Brave replied with a paltry 123 all out as Henry Brookes enjoyed a dream debut on the ground he has always called home. The Edgbaston product took 5-25 and two excellent catches as Phoenix banked their first victory of the campaign and handed James Vince's side their first defeat in nine matches.
After Phoenix were put in, they leaned heavily on Smeed after Chris Benjamin, promoted to open, and Moeen Ali each raced to 17 but then perished. Benjamin sent up a skier off Marcus Stoinis before Ali, having lifted George Garton deep into the crowd at mid-wicket, chopped James Fuller's first ball on to his stumps.
Smeed galloped to a 25-ball half-century, reached with six over long off off Jake Lintott in a stand of 80 in 44 balls with Liam Livingstone. Livingstone was the top six-hitter in last year's Hundred, but this time never really hit his stride, scoring just two from his first seven balls and 21 from 20 before lifting Lintott to extra cover.
Into the last ten balls, the big question was could Smeed complete his ton? He needed five runs from the last three and a four and a two took him to the magical mark from 49 balls.
Phoenix set about defending their total with an increasingly depleted seam attack, Adam Milne (achilles injury) having joined Matt Fisher, Chris Woakes and Olly Stone on the absentee list. But Kane Richardson soon stepped up, bowling Vince with his first ball after the Brave captain had smote Ali for 16 in three balls in the first set.
Richardson conceded just a single from his first five balls and Phoenix struck again when Stoinis was brilliantly caught by Brookes at short fine leg off Tom Helm.
Brookes followed that up in sensational style by striking with his second, tenth, 13th, 15th and 17th balls. Quinton de Kock sent back a return catch, Tim David lifted to deep square leg, Alex Davies (33, 24 balls) was bowled through an attempted scoop, and Fuller and Garton were pinned lbw. Who needs Milne, Fisher, Woakes and Stone?
Brookes hadn't quite finished. At 108-7, Brave's one sliver of remaining hope lay in some pyrotechnics from the big-hitting Ross Whiteley, but when he hoiked Benny Howell to long leg who was waiting underneath the ball Brookes made no mistake and Phoenix closed out a victory which owed everything to the precocious talent of two young Englishmen.