Taxing but obtainable target of 151 hunted down with five balls to spare in Cardiff
Manchester Originals 153 for 3 (Clarke 58) beat Welsh Fire 150 for 6 (du Plooy 43, Hartley 2-12) by seven wickets
Hartley makes hay in Bairstow’s absence
It’s hard to imagine any team has been more scuppered by a big-name absence than Welsh Fire by Jonny Bairstow’s England Test recall – as Gary Kirsten, in one of his now habitual embargo-busting faux pas, outlined to talkSPORT prior to the start of the competition.
After a brace of seam-up sets from Steven Finn and Carlos Brathwaite, Hartley entered the fray for ball 11, and by the end of his first back-to-back ten, he had extracted both Josh Cobb and Tom Banton – each of them unwitting victims of Cardiff’s tempting short, straight boundaries that encourage drives back through the line.
Cobb was the first to go, overshadowed in the opening exchanges as Tom Banton picked off a brace of early fours, then frustrated by Hartley’s tight line for two more dots in a row. His third ball, however, was a full toss, but he drilled it straight back at the bowler’s shins, who stooped well to prise the first wicket.
Banton added his third four soon afterwards, a firm pull through square leg, but Hartley held his nerve, and his length – drawing Banton out of the crease for an elegant loft… straight into the hands of Calvin Harrison at long-on. At 21 for 2 after 18 balls, Fire were spluttering from the outset.
Derbyshire pairing have a Blast
There’s no preparation like no preparation. Du Plooy spent ten days in isolation prior to his late arrival in the Welsh Fire squad, after getting caught up in the Covid outbreak that caused the abandonment of Derbyshire’s County Championship fixture with Essex earlier this month – as well as the cancellation of the club’s final Vitality Blast fixtures.
But at the first time of asking, both du Plooy and his county team-mate, Critchley (in his third match but batting for the first time) brought a taste of the Derbyshire Blast action that had earned each of them a call-up to the competition – Critchley in the redraft after going unpicked in 2019, and du Plooy as a wildcard, after being released from his original Fire contract.
Du Plooy arrived with Fire in some strife at 62 for 3 after 54 balls, following the end of a stuttering innings from Glenn Phillips, and that scoreline got worse moments later when Ben Duckett, their mainstay in the top half of the innings, was brilliantly run out by Ackermann in his followthrough.
With the pressure on two new batters, the legspin of Matt Parkinson was Brathwaite’s attacking response – and he was content to bowl him straight through for ten balls in the expectation of buying another innings-breaking wicket. But du Plooy was equal to the threat, clouting him for a brace of sixes down the ground, including a smear over long-on that landed in the River Taff.
Five balls later, the return of Lockie Ferguson’s out-and-out pace brought a similar response – a 91mph length ball was pinged by du Plooy back over his head for a third six, and he added a fourth six – a fierce pull off Finn over square leg – three balls before Brathwaite’s extra height at mid-off brought an end to his rampage, on a valuable 43 from 21.
Critchley, by this stage, was very much into his own stride. Twice in as many sets from Brathwaite, he picked off back-to-back fours – from a brace of slower balls in the first innings (the latter a touch streaky), and a brace of yorkers in the second, from the 94th and 95th balls, as he finished unbeaten on 30 from 17. Let’s hope their relative success was some consolation for the Derbyshire faithful who have seen their usual fare ransacked in recent times.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket