Cricket finally adds to Great British summer
Cricket seems to have been surplus to requirements in this Great British summer but at Lord's, the Clydesdale Bank 40 final provided it with a memorable send off. It was a match the competition badly needed and restored the glory of cricket's cup final.
The one-day competition has been in almost terminal decline since the advent of Twenty20. The switch to 40-overs and a day-night timeslot pushed the tournament further into the wilderness: the inaugural edition in 2010 finished later than the last train home for Somerset fans. But a walk into any of the pubs around St John's Wood on Saturday evening brought a feeling that the magic was back. 16,500 fans had seen a thriller.
Hampshire's last ball win was their second success in three years by virtue of losing fewer wickets, having taken the 2010 Friends Life t20 by the same condition, but this victory usurped that and this year's FLt20 title put together. Players, supporters, commentators, coach drivers, were all kept wondering throughout an afternoon that bobbed and weaved and had more shifts of tide than the River Severn. It came down to one ball; a ball which Kabir Ali used to put himself back on the cricketing map.
He wouldn't have played in this match were it not for the absence of Danny Briggs or Dimitri Mascarenhas. Hampshire captain Jimmy Adams admitted it was a "tough pick" but Kabir's experience and good showing in practice won him a place in the side. He proved a worthy selection, has been included in Hampshire's squad for the T20 Champions League and possibly earned himself a new contract for next season. "I'm very happy for him, he's had a tough couple of years," Adams said.
Kabir began in the Warwickshire academy before making New Road his home and excelling for Worcestershire, earning 14 ODI caps for England, all but his debut in 2005 and 2006. His move to Hampshire, for a generous salary, was the move to springboard him back into the England team but injury has seen his two years on the south coast turn him into a forgotten man. But he got over a long knee injury to play his part in one of the great Lord's finals.
"Obviously I was a bit nervous but I've worked hard on the yorkers in the last few weeks and it paid off," said Kabir, who played with a hand injury that he was "a bit lazy" about and didn't tape up. "I think with seven off the last over, you're in a situation where you expect the batters to win the game so in a weird way there's not that much pressure until the last two balls.
"The last ball wasn't exactly where I wanted it but if you get a half-decent Yorker in it's always difficult to hit, especially with the keeper standing up.
"I played a lot of youth cricket at Warwickshire and I've grown up with many of the boys so it was special. Neil Carter has hit me a long way a few times."
Carter seemed destined to finish his Warwickshire career in Roy of the Rovers perfection. His boundary off the penultimate ball tied the scores but he failed to get anything on the final delivery and bowed out in desperate defeat. But the old campaigner showed no sign of it dampening his send off as he chatted merrily in the Lord's Tavern, a return to Cape Town and an international debut for Scotland await.
"We thought it was written in the stars for him, especially when he hit that one through extra cover," Warwickshire captain Jim Troughton said. "I thought it was a gettable total, we posted 250 in the semi-final on a not-as-good wicket, and I backed us in that last over.
"It didn't help losing Chris Wright after three overs. He's our death bowler but he went in the side and made us jig things around a bit. But we would have taken that total with the batting we've got."
Wright removed Michael Carberry after he blazed two sixes in 35 from 31 balls, looking set to replicate his hitting in the semi-final. Wright's injury forced Troughton to use five overs of Darren Maddy but it was his new-ball pair, Chris Woakes, who conceded 59 in eight overs, and Carter, bowling four wides and going at almost eight-an-over, that accounted for Hampshire's late-innings surge.
It was Simon Katich, Hampshire's overseas player, who played the best hand in helping Hampshire score 88 in the final 10 overs. He adapted his awkward technique to shuffle around on the crease, deflecting and flicking 35 in 26 balls. He and Sean Ervine, who knows all about crucial innings in finals, added 69 in 43 balls.
Katich continually used the word "special" in his post-match comments and it was very apt for an afternoon that restored pride to domestic cricket fans. A season of steady showers and damp squibs was burned away by a glorious September afternoon.
Adams seemed ready to talk about it all night. "It's just brilliant," he said, accepting that Hampshire enjoyed their slice of luck. "You dare to have a think about how it might be like but I wouldn't have scripted it like that. Thankfully we've come out on the right side of it.
"Special mention to Chris Wood, I thought he was outstanding. His first seven overs were fantastic. I had him waving at me saying I've got to bowl now and he comes on and takes a wicket. The guy has got an amazing appetite for the game."
David Bowie has been the soundtrack to the summer and Wood, Adams and Kabir made themselves Heroes, just for one day.
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo