Impressive Bell takes Warwickshire to title
Warwickshire 200 for 7 (Bell 107) beat Somerset 199 (Compton 60, Tahir 5-41) by three wickets
Ian Bell's masterful, captain's hundred carried Warwickshire to the Clydesdale Bank 40 title in a three-wicket victory at Lord's that condemned Somerset to second prize for the third time this season.
Leading the side ahead of regular captain Ian Westwood, Bell steadied Warwickshire's chase after three early wickets with one of the finest hundreds seen in a domestic one-day final to ensure that Imran Tahir's remarkable spell 5 for 14, which instigated a dramatic Somerset collapse - from 176 for 3 to 199 all out - did not go in vain.
Bell's stature has grown in his injury-enforced absence from the Pakistan series but his form since returning for Warwickshire has lived up to the heightened billing. Starting with pair of fifties against Nottinghamshire and then Yorkshire in the semi-final of this competition, he then collected a Championship century against Hampshire.
He was always going to be pivotal in Warwickshire's chase and his unflustered dominance ensured no slip-ups in the evening dew as he resisted a fiery Somerset attack, desperate to salvage some silverware after missing with the last ball in the Twenty20 final and a dramatic finish to the County Championship on Thursday.
Defending a below-par 199 after Tahir's heroics, Somerset leapt out of the blocks, fielding electrically and bowling with a passion that seemed to add a yard of pace to the new-ball pairing Ben Phillips and Alfonso Thomas.
Neil Carter fell slicing a cut to third man and Keith Barker was unsettled by a fearful clatter to the helmet off a Thomas bouncer before falling to the same bowler two overs later. When Jonathan Trott was caught behind off a ball that bounced and jagged away it looked Somerset might burst through.
Instead Bell serenely progressed through the gears, picking off deft singles and flowing boundaries to bring up a fifty from 53 balls. He found willing support in Jim Troughton and together the pair looked to be steering Warwickshire to a comfortable win before Thomas, the competition's leading wicket-taker, returned to remove Troughton and end a stand of 79.
As the target neared Warwickshire's nerves frayed but Bell launched a calculated assault on the helpless Mark Turner during the batting Powerplay, taking 20 off the 38th over to reach his hundred and all but seal the result. He began by flicking an upper-cut past the short third-man, before skipping down the wicket and driving over mid-off. Two balls later he pulled gloriously to the fine-leg boundary before, with four more needed, celebrating prematurely when his drive down the ground was fielded on the ropes. Visibly riding on the adrenaline he marked each of the three boundaries in the over with a passionate roar and fist-pump which hammered home, a touch endearingly, his new-found reputation for revelling on the big stage.
Under lights Lord's was a spectacle for everyone bar the fans who turned up to the ground. Huddled under blankets, hats and jumpers the conditions were every bit as chilly as an early April morning, but they were treated to a close encounter with two teams desperate to perform on the domestic game's biggest stage. It was a pity that Lord's was barely half full but perhaps that will be enough to persuade the administrators to rethink the scheduling for next year.
When Somerset reflect on yet another missed opportunity they may well come back to one point. James Hildreth and Nick Compton were cruising at 172 for 3 with 10 overs remaining in a 95-run stand when Compton called through a suicidal single to Trott at backward point that left Hildreth with no chance. It opened a chink which Tahir burst through dramatically.
Returning for a second spell after an anonymous opening four overs, Tahir trapped Jos Buttler, who had been cheered warmly to the crease after a memorable debut season, lbw second ball with a top-spinner. Two overs later he lured Arul Suppiah down the pitch and spun the ball past his outside edge to clip off stump before removing Compton lbw three balls later to cue wild celebrations. The procession continued when Phillips punched straight to Bell at short cover and Tahir collected his fifth thanks to a sharp leg-side stumping by Richard Johnson.
It will probably be Tahir's last game for the county. With Warwickshire his 14th first-class team, Tahir is the very definition of a journeyman and returns to Hampshire next season after spending this year in the Midlands on loan. Born in Pakistan he almost made a Test debut for South Africa against England last winter before he was hastily disposed of when it emerged he hadn't yet qualified to play.
Traditionally, the Lord's final is a platform for domestic English players to showcase their international credentials but on this evidence, and after a season that has brought 56 scalps at 24.57 in the Championship, Tahir could well nudge the South African selectors ahead of the World Cup. But for one more night he was a Warwickshire man.
Sahil Dutta is an assistant editor at Cricinfo