The smoke from the pre-game pyrotechnics clung to the Edgbaston turf. The low hanging mist clearing slowly, resembling dry ice at the start of a prog rock concert, to reveal a darkly clad, stooped figure … Daniel Bell-Drummond nonchalantly leaning on his bat beside a floodlit, butterscotch wicket. A few toots of a trumpet sound over the PA. Wheeeey!
Men (it is, let’s face it, largely men) decked out in lederhosen, as lobsters, lifeguards or simply in camera gaze grabbing luminous T-shirts cheer viscerally as another burst of fire is belched out of the Vitality Blast flamethrower. Wheeeey! Meanwhile Bell-Drummond slaps a wide delivery from Roelof van der Merwe through the off-side for four. A polite smattering of applause. Welcome to Birmingham and T20 Finals Day. They do things differently here.
Finals Day can often feel as much about events off the pitch as on. The English cricket season’s end-of-summer lash-up before autumn’s long winter nights set in; the ever-audibly-present DJ knowing just the right ironic parp of pop music to play to sum up a particular snippet of action. Whether it be the “waaap waaap waaah” to follow a wicket or burst of All By Myself after a big-screen rejection is played out from the Kiss Cam in the crowd. Tickets sell out every year long before anyone knows which four teams have made it to the last.
This year the south prevailed (not a midlands or northern-based side to be seen), Kent battling it out with Somerset under lights in front of a capacity Edgbaston crowd. Sam Billings’ side owed a great deal to Margate-born Jordan Cox as he smote his way to 58 off 28 balls, rescuing his side from 111 for five in the 16th over to post 167 for seven. It was a tricky target with the pressure of a trophy ever-present.
It was a remarkably composed innings from the 20-year-old Cox, especially given he was fresh off a first-ball duck, inflicted by the rapid left-arm of Tymal Mills, during his side’s 21-run defeat of Sussex in the semi-final hours earlier.
In the other all-southern semi to take place under Birmingham blue skies, James Vince’s Hampshire conspired to lose a match they looked certain to win. Joe Weatherley’s 71, comprising several down-on-one-knee slog sweeps, helped Hampshire post a competitive total of 150. Somerset found themselves needing 56 off the last 22 balls. They needed only 20. Powerfully effective lower-order hitting from Ben Green and, eventually, Josh Davey saw them sneak into the final.
Under lights a few hours later Somerset’s response got off to a stuttering start. Tom Banton capped off an unremarkable day by being stumped second ball, Billings affecting a smooth stumping off Joe Denly’s unremarkable but highly effective twirly offerings, the Kent veteran finishing up with three for 31 from his four overs. The “Cidermen” never really got going in response but the game was evenly poised at the halfway point, 97 needed off 60 balls. Drama arrived in the 10th over, at 71 for three, when Will Smeed plinked a ball in the air towards Cox on the boundary rope.
Cox clung on to the catch only for Bell-Drummond to slide on his knees like a child at a wedding disco and crash into both him and the pink boundary squishee simultaneously. Cue quizzical looks from players and umpires as the small-print of what constitutes a legal catch was looked up and pored over. One could feel the 4G in Edgbaston buckle under the weight of thousands of searches for the Laws of Cricket, some no doubt by people dressed as Bumblebees, The Flintstones and Gene Simmons from Kiss. The catch was deemed illegal, Smeed was not out and Cox was visibly fuming – at the umpires or the grass-stained Bell-Drummond was not entirely clear.
Six runs later and again Smeed hit a skier, again Cox caught it and this time there was no doubt. Cox let out a guttural roar and held his arms out in celebration.
Then a moment of brilliance to cap off a truly crackers 10 minutes. Darren Stevens dug in a short delivery to Lewis Gregory, who hoicked the ball out to midwicket, the ball clearing the ropes only for Cox to launch himself into the night sky, hang in the air for seemingly an entire day and punch it back over as if it was a beach ball or the inflatable turd emoji that was doing the rounds in the Hollies stand behind him earlier in the afternoon. Matt Milnes gleefully accepted the now simple chance and with that the game fell into Kent’s hands.
Stevens chugged across the turf pointing and gesticulating to Cox, even the old gunslinger who must have seen billions of catches looked almost disbelieving at what had just happened. At 45, “Stevo” became the oldest man to take the field on Finals Day, the same day that Sussex’s Archie Lenham, at 17, became the youngest.
“I’m lost for words.” Stevens said, clutching the trophy. “These young lads keep me going, keep spurring me on. I love the game and I ain’t gonna stop yet.” The trophy went to Kent for the first time since 2007. The day belonged to Jordan Cox.