Moeen Ali scores 23-ball fifty as home side rack up records on way to thumping win
Birmingham Phoenix 184 for 5 (Smeed 65*, Moeen 59, Payne 3-38) beat Welsh Fire 91 (Cockbain 32, Tahir 5-25) by 93 runs
Fire’s chase startly poorly when Adam Milne – surprisingly left out of New Zealand’s T20 World Cup squad earlier in the evening, though included as injury cover – trapped Tom Banton on the front pad with a 90mph/145kph inswinger, and got little better from there. Ian Cockbain top-scored with 32 but struggled to score freely and Tahir took 5 for 25, spinning out the tail and setting off on a celebratory lap of Edgbaston after completing his hat-trick.
Phoenix sit top of the table ahead of their final two group games, both away from home, after defending a total for the first time in the competition, while Fire are realistically out of knockout contention after four straight losses.
At 19, Smeed is the youngest player in the men’s Hundred – not that you would know from his bulging biceps and raw power. He has done the dirty work for Somerset in his fledgling T20 Blast career, with a strike rate of exactly 130 grinding runs out at No. 3, but has been given licence to tee off on flat pitches in the Hundred since replacing Daniel Bell-Drummond in the side, and has scored his runs faster than anyone else in the competition with more than 20 runs.
His flurry of early boundaries got the Phoenix innings up and running as he raced to 21 off 9, flaying David Payne and Luke Fletcher away through the inner ring. He struggled badly for strike through the middle of the innings, facing only 23 deliveries between balls 25 and 95, but cracked consecutive full tosses for four then six off Matt Milnes at the death to lead Phoenix to a competition-high total of 184.
No batter in the history of T20 cricket has a higher strike rate against spin than Moeen, and he put on a clinic of ultra-attacking mid-innings batting to drive his side towards a huge total. He got himself up and running by thumping Qais Ahmad for a huge six back over his head, moving to 25 off 17 after 40 balls, before unleashing an assault on Graeme White’s left-arm spin.
White’s first three legitimate balls were thumped over wide long-on, straight back over his head, and wide long-on again for three enormous sixes, and with two wides down the leg side his economy rate was briefly above six per ball. Moeen brought up a 23-ball fifty – the second-fastest of the Hundred – when punching a Milnes offcutter away through point, and while he was dismissed shortly after when swinging Jimmy Neesham straight to long-on, he had set the platform for the rest of the middle order.
Liam Livingstone was dropped at deep midwicket by Glenn Phillips, who clung on to a chance in the following set of five but only after Livingstone had launched David Payne 93 metres over midwicket, and while Fletcher landed yorker after yorker to finish with 0 for 21 from his 20 balls, the rest of the attack struggled for control throughout.
Tahir douses Fire
Banton’s early dismissal got Fire’s chase off to a false start, and despite a partnership of 35 for the second wicket between Cockbain and Ben Duckett – the leading run-scorer in the competition – they were always struggling with the required rate.
Phoenix’s array of pace-off options proved close to unplayable as the innings wore on: Benny Howell made the crucial breakthrough, pinning back Duckett’s leg stump as he attempted a paddle-scoop, and Tahir ripped through the middle and lower order.
Fire had slipped to 90 for 7 when he returned for his final set of five, and when Qais Ahmad skied a catch to mid-off to further expose a long tail, the prospect of a hat-trick was immediately on the cards. Milnes was pinned on the pad first ball, and Payne was flummoxed by a fast googly which crashed into his stumps and set Tahir off on a lap of the West Midlands to a huge ovation from a sold-out Monday-night crowd.
“It’s been difficult: we’ve been playing on pretty flat tracks but I think that’s good for the crowds,” Tahir said. “We’re living in a sad time with Covid and stuff but coming here and playing in front of a crowd is a great feeling. I felt that the batter was going to be ready for the quicker one so I tried a quick googly and it worked. It’s really nice to come and deliver here in front of everybody.”
Tahir became the sixth player to take three T20 hat-tricks, the oldest player to take a T20 five-for, and the second player after Dwayne Bravo to reach the landmark of 400 wickets in a T20 career (Hundred games count as T20s for statistical purposes).
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98