Bears thwart Flintoff fairytale

Birmingham Bears held their nerve to win the NatWest T20 Blast

Birmingham Bears held their nerve to win the NatWest T20 Blast

First published in National Sport News © by

Birmingham Bears left Edgbaston with the NatWest T20 Blast trophy, Laurie Evans took the man-of-the-match honours and Chris Woakes put in a decisive all-round performance but Lancashire's Andrew Flintoff was the name on everyone's lips after an unexpected return to centre stage.

The former England captain was expected to be little more than a big name cheerleader at Finals Day, having played just two matches since coming out of retirement this summer, but was thrust into the spotlight after Kabir Ali was injured in the semi-final win over Hampshire.

On the fifth anniversary of his final England appearance the 36-year-old rolled back the years, dismissing Ian Bell with his first delivery and coming desperately close to winning the match with the bat.

Given he has been training alone while filming a television show about fish and chips, it was a remarkable effort.

He finished 20 not out from just eight balls, two nostalgia-soaked sixes off Oliver Hannon-Dalby teeing up a dramatic finish.

Everyone, it seems, felt the script had already been written and victory would be Flintoff's.

Instead, Woakes held his nerve in a fine last over to seal a four-run win.

Evans, who claimed the sponsors' champagne for his 53, admitted: "Andrew got the biggest cheer of the day...at one stage I didn't think we were the home side.

"It seemed to be a little bit written in the stars for him, coming back getting Belly out first ball then he hits the last two balls of the 19th over for six."

After shutting Flintoff's momentum down with some well-placed yorkers, Woakes added: "He's still got it hasn't he? There was some good striking at the end there but it's just great to close it out."

Lancashire skipper Paul Horton was candid enough to admit there was no place for Flintoff in his best XI until Kabir's injury, but started to believe a Freddie miracle was in the offing.

"We thought we were going to get over the line when Freddie came in and smacked it really well," he said,

"If Kabir hadn't got injured he probably wouldn't have been there and it's totally different, it might not have been Freddie's story, might not have been Freddie's day but once he got in we thought he was going to win it.

"I was surprised really. He's had a long lay-off. He's worked hard to regain his fitness but he's been in a chip van for a couple of weeks.

"He's come from no cricket and done that today. It's testament to him because he's been training by himself and bowling on his own to be available for Finals Day."

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