Welsh Fire established their dominance in the 2023 Men’s Hundred by convincingly defeating Birmingham Phoenix by six wickets at Edgbaston.
Within the Fire team, there’s a growing belief that they can make a serious challenge in this year’s tournament. Their dismantling of Phoenix provided strong support for this perspective.
Phoenix chose to bat but only scored 112 for 7, unable to escape the determined Fire attack. David Payne led the charge with excellent performances both early and late, finishing with figures of 2 for 11. He received valuable support from Roelof van der Merwe (2 for 16) and Haris Rauf (2 for 20).
Phoenix’s lackluster batting performance left them needing a dynamic display with the ball, but Fire blazed to 116 for 4 from 85 balls, with Stephen Eskinazi launching their reply with a ferocious 18-ball 43. They swiftly reached 50 without losing a wicket in just 21 balls and maintained control throughout.
Phoenix faced early batting challenges due to van der Merwe’s skills. The left-arm spinner removed Will Smeed, who skied one, and Ben Duckett, caught at short fine leg.
After Jamie Smith was bowled out by a fast yorker from Rauf, van der Merwe found himself handling a top-edged hoik from Moeen Ali and managed to hold onto the catch on the third attempt.
The Fire bowlers showed both pace and purpose. One rapid, full-length delivery eluded Livingstone’s attempt to send it into the stands at the Hollies Stand. The crowd, usually energetic, was subdued. The last ten balls, skillfully bowled by Shaheen Shah Afridi and Payne, only yielded six runs and didn’t lift the noise levels.
As Blaze took the momentum emphatically into batting, Eskinazi’s splendid improvisations were on display. He aggressively attacked the ball, reaching 43 in an opening partnership of 67 in 32 balls with Joe Clarke.
A glimmer of hope emerged for the home side when Benny Howell removed both openers in just five balls. However, when Luke Wells fell lbw while attempting a reverse sweep against Moeen Ali, three wickets had fallen for just six runs in ten balls. Despite this, Fire’s excellent fielding had given them the luxury of withstanding a momentary setback.
Tom Abell’s unbeaten 23 from 18 balls secured victory for the visitors, hushing the Hollies Stand. A distinguished, sombrero-wearing, first-time visitor, usually lively, noted that her day’s highlight was a nap in the sunshine during the first innings.