By Jamie Green, ECB Hundred Rising Reporter
Alex Davies and Ross Whiteley kept Southern Brave’s faint hopes of defending their title alive as they dramatically beat second-placed Trent Rockets by six wickets with five balls to spare.
Brave looked down and out when needing 75 from 36 balls, but Davies hit an unbeaten 51 and Whiteley added 30 to dent the Rockets’ chances of going straight through to the final.
Dawid Malan had earlier top-scored with 59 for the Rockets, as the visitors finished on a below-par 138-6.
Brave have now won three games, but must hope other results go their way to have any chance of making next Friday’s Eliminator on home soil.
Brave were under pressure straight away in their run chase as Sam Cook bowled Paul Stirling without scoring before captain James Vince went first ball to a fired-up Luke Wood.
Their top-order batters, who had looked so confident against Welsh Fire on Monday, ended the Powerplay on a paltry 15 for two.
Even Tabraiz Shamsi’s straightforward drop off Quinton de Kock did little to shift the momentum as the required rate spiralled.
De Kock briefly got the run-chase back on track with a much-needed maximum followed by a vicious pull for four.
But he was gone soon after, tamely miscuing Rockets captain Lewis Gregory to mid-on.
Davies steadied the innings with new partner Whiteley to keep Brave’s hopes alive before accelerating, helped by indiscipline from the Rockets’ bowlers.
A combination of big-hitting, wides and no-balls suddenly made the Brave favourites, only for Whiteley to fall with 16 still required.
But Tim David found form at the perfect time, clubbing two sixes to see his side home.
Earlier, Malan and Alex Hales looked untroubled in the first two sets of pace from 41-year old Michael Hogan and his 19-year-old opening partner Sonny Baker, but that all changed when spinner Stirling came into the attack.
After miscuing the Ireland star’s first ball over backward point, Hales slapped his second delivery straight to cover to give Stirling his first-ever wicket in The Hundred.
Stirling bowled ten balls unchanged, conceding just six runs, as the Rockets finished the 25-ball Powerplay on an underwhelming 27 for one.
Spin continued to do the trick for Brave as Jake Lintott had Tom Kohler-Cadmore brilliantly caught at long-off by James Fuller.
Only Malan seemed comfortable in the first-half of the innings, but partner Samit Patel soon got into his stride, launching Lintott for consecutive sixes before Baker was denied a maiden Hundred wicket as Hogan dropped Malan on 37.
The tournament’s leading run-scorer shrugged off that moment of danger to reach his half-century from 38 balls, shortly after Fuller had produced the perfect yorker to bowl Patel for 21.
Hogan then made amends by bowling Malan just as the England batter looked set to cut loose.
The innings stalled before Lintott’s final set went for 18, the highlight being an audacious reverse sweep for six from New Zealand batter Colin Munro.
Munro holed out off Fuller in the penultimate set before Hogan dismissed Gregory as the Rockets closed on 138 for six, a seemingly under-par total which ultimately proved just within Brave’s reach.
Southern Brave batter Alex Davies:
“I’m not sure it will go down as one of the greatest innings in history but it was very typical of be; scrappy, run hard, get dirty, do the dirty things. With our batting line-up I knew a couple of lads could hit sixes and I could hit a few and we could all catch up with the rate.
“You needed to stay calm and spend a bit of time at the wicket and catch up later. If you tried to go too early, we wouldn’t have won.
“Malan made it look a different pitch, I don’t know if it was easier earlier but he showed if you played proper cricket shots you could go well on it.
“It is a short comp and if you make a few mistakes early then you pay the price for it. The boys are ecstatic up there but there is a feel that we have done it one game too late. All we can do is win tonight and win out last game at Headingley. It is mathematically possible so we will be cheering on the teams we need to.”
Trent Rockets bowler Sam Cook:
“It was a tight low scoring affair. The square has had a lot of cricket on it and the toss was important. They probably got the better of conditions with how dewy it got.
“After the powerplay we would have been confident defending that but it is just credit to the way they batted in the middle and the latter periods.
“When you have a set batter like Davies was it is always dangerous. We need if we took a risk and get a wicket then we could have killed the game. It is easy in hindsight but we always tried to take the positive options which has worked well so far in the tournament. It didn’t come off tonight but we won’t change it.
“We lost against Birmingham and bounced back brilliant. We need to be constant in our emotions and not getting too down when we lose. I’m sure that will be the same going into the last games. We’ve lost all bar two of our games so we can take an awful lot of confidence from that.”