Birmingham 164 for 3 (Bell 90, Porterfield 41) beat Durham 163 for 7 (MacLeod 41, Stokes 40, Javid 2-29) by seven wickets
Ian Bell rarely misses an opportunity to shine when available for his county and his 90 off 65 balls guided Birmingham Bears to a seven-wicket win in their NatWest T20 Blast match at Chester-le-Street. Bell put his poor recent form for England behind him and won the contest with his international colleague Ben Stokes, who scored 40 from 28 balls but then saw three overs disappear for 44.
In the windswept battle between the reigning Blast champions and the North Group leaders, Bell gave the Bears the initiative when he drove and pulled successive balls from Stokes for six.
That was in the fourth over of their reply to 163 for 7, but they fell behind the rate when Paul Collingwood's gentle floaters yielded only six runs in his first two overs. Needing 95 off the last 10, William Porterfield stepped on the gas by driving Collingwood over long-on then Bell twice cut Scott Borthwick wide of backward point.
There was no let-up and when Stokes returned for the 16th over, as Bell straight drove two fours and guided two more to third man either side of a high full toss. Stokes had already had one warning for a full toss above waist height but this was deemed a slower ball and he was allowed to complete the over, which cost 21.
Bell departed in the next over when he hit a short ball from John Hastings to mid-off, but the stand of 96 had left only 16 needed off three overs. Laurie Evans fell lbw to an Usman Arshad yorker, but Porterfield's unbeaten 41 completed the task with five balls to spare.
Durham were put in and had made only 6 when Phil Mustard fell in the third over, tamely pulling Oliver Hannon-Dalby to midwicket.
Calum MacLeod survived a leading edge straight back to Recordo Gordon on nine to make 41 off 27 balls. The acceleration began when Boyd Rankin came on for the sixth over. Two of Rankin's first three balls were short enough for Mark Stoneman to pull and, although he top-edged them, both flew high to fine leg, for four and six. MacLeod also cut a four as the over cost 15.
But Stoneman departed for 18, lbw to a yorker from Gordon to bring in Stokes, who pulled the offspin of Ateeq Javid for six two overs later.
With Jeetan Patel at the other end, both batsmen proved very adept at finding the gap between long-on and deep mid-wicket as the total reached 82 at the halfway point. But the momentum stalled as MacLeod drove Javid to long-on then Collingwood was run out for 4, sent back at the non-striker's end and beaten by Porterfield's direct hit from backward point.
Stokes gave himself room to swing through a leg-stump ball from Rankin and hit it for a straight six, but the Bears' gamble in leaving Javid on paid dividends when he had Stokes lbw for 40 attempting a reverse sweep.
Hannon-Dalby came back for the 18th over in preference to Rikki Clarke and his first ball was driven for a straight six by Hastings as 14 came off the over. Hastings made 21 off 12 balls before driving to extra cover in the final over then Gordon Muchall straight-drove his only boundary in an unbeaten 30 off 20 balls.