Birmingham Phoenix 145 for 4 (Allen 43, Smeed 36) beat Trent Rockets 144 for 6 (Malan 51, Milne 2-13) by six wickets
Milne equalled the most economical analysis by any bowler delivering their full contribution of 20 deliveries in the competition to help keep Northern Rockets to a modest total of 144 on what appeared to be a fine batting track.
While Dawid Malan made 51, the highest score of the match, he struggled for fluency for much of his innings. At once stage, Moeen Ali was able to bowl 10 successive deliveries for a cost of just 10 runs with Benny Howell again impressing with his control and variations.
Only Alex Hales and Samit Patel scored at the rate Trent Rockets would have wanted. But Hales skied ball 44 to mid-off, the victim of a neat piece of bowling from Moeen who floated one a little wide, and without his impetus, the innings failed to ignite.
In taking 59 from the first 20 balls of the reply - a record for a Powerplay in this competition even before the final five balls of the period (they only added one more in that next set) Smeed and Finn Allen soon broke the back of the run-chase with Phoenix reaching their target with six wickets and 26 deliveries to spare. Only once in the competition to date, when Manchester Originals defeated Phoenix with 27 balls remaining, has that margin been exceeded.
While Trent Rockets, who won their first three matches, stay top, it's a result that revives Birmingham Phoenix's campaign. They move into the top four.
Despite bowling two sets in the Powerplay, Milne went for just 13 runs from his 20 deliveries. Bowling at a sharp pace and cramping the batters for room, Milne's spell included 14 dot balls while he also claimed the wickets of D'Arcy Short, dismissed for a duck in the opening moments of the game, and Rashid Khan. Tom Helm's first five balls, by contrast, cost 18 runs. It was, in many ways, the defining contribution of the match. But it's a batter's game and it was Smeed's impressive innings which won the Hero of the Match award.
Going according to Malan?
In an innings that provided something of a microcosm of his career, Malan top-scored for Trent Rockets. But he did so at such a run-rate that it remains debatable how valuable an innings it was. Certainly there were moments in Malan's innings - not least when he had scored seven off his first 12 deliveries despite batting in the Powerplay - when his run-rate appeared to put pressure on his partners. Hales' dismissal, caught at mid-on, could be put down to just such pressure.
As so often, Malan started to make up for lost time as he innings progressed. From having scored 29 from 29, he finished with 51 from 41. But his run-out - he was the victim of a direct hit from Moeen fielding at wide mid-off - from the 91st delivery of the innings prevented him from fully cashing in on the investment he had made at the start. And when the opposition gallop to victory with more than a quarter of the allotted deliveries unused, there are bound to be questions about how well he paced his innings.
The counter argument is that, without Malan, Trent Rockets may not have got anywhere near 144. This was their highest score of the competition to date, after all, and the site of Rashid, flailing like a drowning man at No. 6, and Matt Carter at No. 8, suggested their batting lacks a bit of depth.
Either way, Malan's method is sure to encourage more debate.
The need for Smeed
Smeed is fast making a name for himself. Like Jos Buttler and Tom Banton, he was educated at King's College, Taunton and like both of them, he has impressed as a young player at Somerset. But, having won a call-up in the Hundred as one of many replacement players, he had never previously opened in T20 cricket (the Hundred is officially seen as T20 for statistical purposes) and owed his opportunity to something of a hunch from Phoenix's coach, Dan Vettori.
It worked beautifully. Smeed thrashed 36 from just 13 deliveries to put his side far ahead of the run-rate at the start of their innings. At one stage, the 19-year-old took 20 from four successive balls (two sixes and two fours) from Timm van der Gugten, a man who has played almost 50 international matches. Such was the power with which he pulled and drove that he will have franchise owners around the world sitting up and taking notice. "The coach just told me to go out and have some fun," Smeed said later. "I just kept it simple and watched the ball."
Van der Gugten, by contrast, later parried a chance from Liam Livingstone over the mid-wicket boundary for six. Sometimes it's just not your day.
Moeen hadn't scored from any of his first five deliveries. And while the pace at which Smeed and Allen had started the chase gave Moeen some sort of cushion, there was just a bit of pressure building when he defended his sixth ball only to see Patel ask for a review of a leg-before decision that had been given not out on the pitch.
Multiple replays persuaded the TV umpire that ball had, indeed, hit pad before bat, at which stage Moeen's heart must have been in his mouth. But ball-tracking technology was unavailable due to a technical error meaning the officials were obliged to stick with the on-field umpire's decision. Moeen went on to make an increasingly fluent 26 to speed his side towards victory. It could have been a crossroads moment.
Voting with their feet
Edgbaston might be seen as a potential swing state in the Hundred's bid for success. While the ground has a good record for international ticket sales, it has never matched the London grounds (or, of late, Emirates Old Trafford) when it comes to domestic T20 sales. Only local derby matches against Worcestershire have come close to selling out in the Vitality Blast.
So, to see Edgbaston close to full here felt significant. The club also reported swift sales of merchandise (a report supported by the number of spectators wearing Phoenix orange) and an eight percent increase in the number of female ticket-buyers in the tournament to date when compared to the Blast.
As ever with the Hundred, you have to be a little careful with official reports. Several thousand seats were unavailable here due to the placing of the stage and because of Covid protocols. And, with plenty of beer being consumed and even Sweet Caroline making a brief appearance, it wasn't entirely clear how 'new' these spectators really are. But a crowd of 17,479 for a domestic cricket match outside London is impressive and suggests this competition is starting to gain some traction.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo