On their day, Oval Invincibles are some outfit. Not that Monday night was totally their day; Welsh Fire captain Ben Duckett reached 65, their fielding was abject in parts and the batters slowed up midway through chasing 122.
But with Saqib Mahmood displaying the pace and seam which won him plaudits against Pakistan for England, and the likes of Will Jacks going on the offensive at the top, this is certainly a talented side.
It was Sam Billings who picked up the tab to anchor his side home with an assured 40, before Laurie Evans smote 16 in three balls to seal victory by six wickets.
Sam Billings (left) celebrates Oval Invincibles victory over Welsh Fire with Laurie Evans
The platform was set up by the home side’s fine bowling display which restricted Fire to a below-par score. Aside from Mahmood’s skills, overseas spin twins Sunil Narine and Tabraiz Shamsi tied the opposition in knots on a spin-friendly wicket.
Though two horror dropped catches from Jacks and Jordan Clark are clear areas for improvement.
Captain Billings was full of praise for the bowling display. He said: ‘Tonight the bowlers did fantastic again. To restrict them to 120 on that pitch was a great effort. We had a little wobble but it was just about getting the job done.
‘I still think we can play better, that is the exciting thing from our group.’
Welsh Fire’s Josh Cobb walks off after being bizarrely run out by Reece Topley at the Oval
Before the match, eyes turned to the clientele entering the Oval following reports of police being called 24 hours earlier at Lord’s to control drunken spectators fighting.
Tonight police officers were dotted inside and outside the ground to prevent another occurrence.
Predictably, there were some inebriated fans behaving rowdily in the stadium and it remains to be seen what measures – Lord’s have now capped alcoholic drinks to two per transaction and closed the bar at the halfway point – will be introduced to help stem this to create a ‘family-friendly environment’.
It regrettably appears to be an issue that will be revisited over and over again in the coming weeks, and one that needs solving quickly.
Fire were looking thin from the off without England-bound Jonny Bairstow, and the absences of Lungi Ngidi and Liam Plunkett – due to personal reasons and injury respectively – further ripped out the side’s core.
Welsh Fire captain Ben Duckett produced a classy performance despite his side’s defeat
Domestic players Matt Milnes and Graeme White replaced the duo in the squad, with Milnes earning a start. His hasty inclusion aptly reflected by the pace bowler having no profile picture among his squad on the Hundred website.
The away side got off to stodgy start with the bat, losing both Tom Banton and Josh Cobb in the first 15 balls.
England hopeful Banton stepped down the wicket to a Reece Topley length ball, only to miscue to Mahmood at mid-off. Cobb was rather unfortunate as he succumbed to Topley getting a finger or two to deflect the ball at the stumps as he followed through.
Mahmood’s pace and ability to hit the blockhole caused discomfort but it was chinaman Shamzi who was proving even trickier to get off the square. The difficulty in reading the left-arm leg-spinner was possibly in part to their rare nature in English cricket, but his stump-to-stump accuracy was certainly unnerving.
He bamboozled Glenn Phillips to strike his stumps, and then had Leus du Plooy shelled by Clark at deep square leg. It was an embarrassing episode – on the boundary rope, Clark for some reason marched in 15 yards before the ball sailed over his head.
Oval’s Will Jacks and Sunil Narine (pictured) were both dismissed in quick succession
The well-oiled punters behind him certainly gave him a briefing. Jacks gave Du Plooy another reprieve a couple of balls later after also dropping a dolly at deep point, before Tom Curran got the wicket.
While his side were crumbling beside him, captain Duckett resolutely hunted boundaries in a controlled manner and kept the scoreboard ticking by pinching any ones and twos on offer.
His back-to-back boundaries off Mahmood – including a plucky ramp shot off a bouncer – certainly showed nerve. He finished on 65, with his crucial late flourish getting Fire to a below-par 121.
Jason Roy looked to get the Invincibles off to a flyer in the chase as he crunched two boundaries in the first five before going for a typically belligerent Roy swipe off new man Milnes. The ball was safely caught by Duckett at mid-off.
Narine was thrown in next as a pinch-hitter and he muscled a Milnes slower ball for six after another maximum a couple of balls earlier.
This impetus rubbed off on Jacks, who produced a lovely glance for six off New Zealander Jimmy Neesham mixed with a classy cut for four. Though unlike Duckett, he could not mix gears and top-edged to Josh Cobb at mid-on for 20. Narine perished soon after from a top edge too.
Leg-spinner Qais Ahmed thought he had Colin Ingram twice in two balls – the batsman was reprieved for lbw after a review, and then a stumping which wicketkeeper Banton loudly appealed but was denied by the third umpire.
Ahmed was to finally get Ingram lbw soon after. Billings joined the crease with Laurie Evans and the impetus began to slow before the captain upped the ante in the final 25 balls. Evans aptly applied the long handle in the final three sets off five to finish the job with a big six and seven balls to spare.