Moeen Ali enjoyed the perfect homecoming as Worcestershire’s inaugural finals day visit ended in a first white-ball trophy for a dozen years.
The England all-rounder still lives in Birmingham, the city of his birth, and began his career at Edgbaston before moving across the West Midlands for a career break. His return as the Rapids captain was a masterclass in cool.
His calm demeanour showed the youngest side in the tournament the way in front of a record-equalling crowd of 24, 426. Five wickets with his off-spin were sandwiched by two typically free-flowing innings of 41.
Moeen Ali enjoyed the perfect homecoming as Worcestershire won the T20 finals day
Ali played a crucial role as Worcestershire beat Sussex in the final by five wickets on Saturday
Moeen was a teenager when Worcestershire won the 40-over league in 2007 but used all his experience to anchor the chase of 158 under the floodlights.
Then, after a mid-innings wobble it was the semi-final hero Ben Cox who charged them to victory with an unbeaten 46 off 27 balls. Earlier, his half-century put the Rapids out of range against Lancashire.
Worcestershire appeared to be coasting after repelling the opening bursts of Sussex’s two 90-mile-an-hour merchants Jofra Archer and Tymal Mills.
However, having escaped the power play with all wickets intact and 53 wiped off their 158-run target, the loss of four to the spinners Danny Briggs and Will Beer – including that of Moeen, brilliantly held by Phil Salt at long-off – teed up a tense finale.
Momentum swung towards Worcestershire when with 41 required from 23 balls, the semi-final hero Ben Cox took consecutive fours off Archer. Then, after Ross Whiteley holed out later in the same over, he relieved the pressure again in the following over when he pummelled Chris Jordan for a straight six.
Semi-final hero Ben Cox charged them to victory with an unbeaten 46 off 27 balls
Worcestershire repelled the opening bursts of Sussex’s Jofra Archer (pictured) and Tymal Mills
Sussex’s progress was stymied at either end of their innings by the tournament’s leading wicket taker Pat Brown.
This has been an extraordinary season for Brown, a 20-year-old who arguably became Worcestershire’s bowling kingpin by chance rather than design. With a previous return of one wicket in six matches, it is debatable whether he would have made the Rapids’ first-choice XI had the Rapids captain Joe Leach’s season not been ended by a back injury in midsummer.
But his array of deceptions resulted in four wickets in the semi-final success over Lancashire, taking his collection for the season to 31. In only one of the previous 15 campaigns has 30 been breached.
Opponents clearly struggle picking up the paces and lengths of deliveries due to a proliferation of knuckle balls and his quick arm action. His eight overs at Edgbaston cost just 36 runs.
Lancashire were dispatched up the M6 by virtue of a 20-run defeat and Sussex were then kept to a mid-ranging total by an inability to rotate the strike.
Sussex’s progress was stymied by the tournament’s leading wicket taker Pat Brown
Worcestershire’s players celebrate on the pitch after securing the trophy against Sussex
Between them they struck nine sixes but the lack of singles suffocated their scoring in the power play. They closed the innings with 36 runs off the final 37 balls, for the loss of four wickets.
It was a cricketer England forgot in Luke Wright who did most to put Sussex into the showpiece match, putting the second semi-final out of the reach of Somerset, hitting 92, the highest individual score in finals day history.
In so doing, the Sussex captain made domestic cricket’s biggest match the 300th of his globetrotting T20 career.
In fact, during a stand of 120 in 10 overs for the fourth wicket with the South African David Wiese it appeared Sussex were on course to break the team record finals-day total of 217 for four. One Jamie Overton over cost 31; Wright out-sixed Wiese but could not match his monstrous blow off Lewis Gregory into the third tier of the pavilion end.
Even with Somerset’s depth of batting, a target of 203 was to prove more than enough and, in a high-class closing of the innings, Jordan reacted to an equation of 62 runs off four overs by sending down a maiden.