Paul Stirling, Ross Whiteley step up as Brave eclipse Phoenix to claim men's Hundred title

Paul Stirling, Ross Whiteley step up as Brave eclipse Phoenix to claim men’s Hundred title

Paul Stirling, Ross Whiteley step up as Brave eclipse Phoenix to claim men's Hundred title
Ross Whiteley heaves down the ground during his 44 from 19 © Getty Images

Southern Brave 168 for 5 (Stirling 61, Whiteley 44*) beat Birmingham Phoenix 136 for 5 (Livingstone 46, Mills 1-13) by 32 runs

Southern Brave lived up to their pre-tournament billing as the strongest side in the men’s Hundred – but they did it the hard way. Defeated in their opening two games, they put together a run of six wins to reach the final, against big-hitting Birmingham Phoenix. Then, having lost the toss, they made a successful departure from their preferred method of chasing to walk out 32-run winners on a balmy night in front of 24,556 at Lord’s.

Put into bat by Moeen Ali, Brave once again demonstrated the Mahela Jayawardene trick of recovering from a slow start. Paul Stirling‘s 61 from 36 balls carried the fight after Adam Milne had applied a tourniquet to the Powerplay, and when he fell, Ross Whiteley picked up the cudgels to blast four fours and four sixes in 44 from 19 that lifted Brave well beyond the 150 that might have seemed par.

Phoenix were a side equipped for such a chase, with an aggressive line-up led by the incandescent Liam Livingstone, as well as the returning Moeen. They, too, fought back from a poor Powerplay and Livingstone was on course to match his fastest fifty from earlier in the week, when he was run out coming back for two for 46 off 19. Moeen clubbed a couple of defiant sixes but holed out off the wristspin of Jake Lintott as the required rate climbed above two per ball, before Tymal Mills capped a fine tournament by closing out for Brave to finish with figures of 20-11-13-1.

While it was not quite as comprehensive as their demolition of Trent Rockets in Friday night’s eliminator, Brave produced another complete performance to sweep past table-topping Phoenix, with captain James Vince able to oversee the conclusion of the chase in some comfort before going up to lift his first bit of Hundred bling.

Milne keeps it tight, Stirling lets rip
Milne has arguably been the overseas signing of the tournament, and he improved his standing as the most-economical bowler in the men’s Hundred with a brilliant display during the Powerplay – delivering 15 out of the first 25 balls for a cost of just three runs, while also pocketing the wicket of the dangerous Quinton de Kock. Brave were 25 for 1 after the Powerplay and then slipped to 35 for 2 when captain Vince was bowled by Imran Tahir with the 32nd ball of the innings.

They were left to rely on an overseas player of their own – albeit one with a difference. Stirling spent the best part of a decade playing for Middlesex at Lord’s, before leaving at the end of 2019 after Ireland’s Test status meant he had to make a choice between his international career and his ability to play as a domestic player in county cricket. He was back earlier in the summer to play in the Blast (as an overseas signing), and then signed for Brave after Devon Conway suffered a finger injury midway through the group stage.

His familiarity with Lord’s (only Eoin Morgan has hit more Blast sixes at the ground) helped keep Brave above water through the first half of the innings. Six times he launched the ball over the rope in the arc between long-on and deep square leg – five of them coming off Tahir and Benny Howell, normally middle-overs bankers for Phoenix. When finally fell, nicking a Howell knuckle ball behind, Stirling had scored 61 from out of Brave’s 85 for 3.

Paul Stirling, Ross Whiteley step up as Brave eclipse Phoenix to claim men's Hundred title
Liam Livingstone was run out by a direct hit from the deep © Getty Images

Good night, Whiteley
Despite Stirling’s efforts, Brave were in need of a finisher to help get them above par – step forward Whiteley, who had scored 89 runs from 73 balls in the tournament previously and had barely been required at No. 6 during his side’s run of six victories going into the final. His first couple of boundaries came as Moeen seemingly sought a match-up with Livingstone’s offbreaks, and then he tucked into Benny Howell’s final delivery for a six that just cleared the leaping Pat Brown before landing on the boundary marker at wide long-on.

Then came the real carnage, as the Worcestershire allrounder targeted a couple of his unfortunate county team-mates at the death. Brown’s variations were no mystery to Whiteley, who slammed him down the ground for six and four, before Alex Davies’ ramped six added to the bowler’s pain. Davies fell in the next set to Milne, who conceded just five from his final five to finish with the most-economical analysis by a fast bowler; but the return of Dillon Pennington, after 85 balls grazing in the outfield, saw Whiteley hits his straps.

Pennington’s first ball was crunched over long-off, before a thick inside edge wrong-footed Chris Benjamin to disappear for four and a slower ball was hauled into the crowd at deep square leg. From 110 for 4, Whiteley’s crisp hitting saw Brave add 58 from their last 25 balls and ultimately take them beyond the Phoenix range-finders.

Running hot, running not so hot
Phoenix made a disastrous start to what would have been the second-highest successful chase in the tournament – after their own pursuit of 173 against Oval Invincibles – as David Bedingham, an overseas replacement for Finn Allen making his Hundred debut, was snapped up superbly by the diving Tim David at point. Will Smeed then holed out for a nervy 2 off 6 and Phoenix were 14 for 2 and looking decidedly off the pace.

That, however, brought Livingstone out the middle, the Hundred’s leading run-scorer and six-hitter, and a man in the purplest patch of his career. As if to prove the point, he smoked his third and fourth legitimate deliveries into the crowd, and after a couple of quiet sets from Mills and Lintott – the latter of which included a tough caught-and-bowled going down off Livingstone – he suddenly kicked into “beast mode”, as Shane Warne excitedly put it on TV commentary.

Livingstone’s next eight balls were ransacked for 29 runs, with four fours and two sixes, as Lintott and Chris Jordan felt the brunt of his clean hitting. But having seen a slice over the off side narrowly evade the dive of Whiteley running in, he was cut off by a piece of brilliance in the field – as well as his own lapse in concentration. Having half-jogged one, Livingstone tried to get back for two but was left inches short by a direct hit from David, the Singapore-born Australian who a week ago was playing in the Royal London Cup for Surrey.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick

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