Veteran Moeen Ali and newcomer Chris Benjamin helped Birmingham Phoenix chase down a target of 145 to launch their Hundred campaign with a thrilling three-wicket win over London Spirit.
In front of a 12,137 crowd at Edgbaston, the Spirit were lifted to 144 for six from their 100 balls by a dazzling 64 from 40 balls from opener Zak Crawley.
Adam Milne led the Phoenix bowling with a superb two for 18 from 20 balls and also brought the crowd to its feet with a stunning return catch to dismiss Ravi Bopara.
Phoenix captain Moeen then led his side’s reply with 40 from 30 balls to pave the way for a stunning finale from Benjamin.
The 22-year-old Warwickshire batsman, drafted into the Phoenix side on the eve of the tournament, smashed an unbeaten 24 from 15 balls to see his side to 148 for seven with three balls to spare.
The Spirit, having been put in, were given a solid start by Crawley before Josh Inglis and Dan Lawrence sent up catches in quick succession to leave the score 26 for two. Crawley stayed to form the backbone of the innings, reaching a 30-ball half-century with a six off Imran Tahir. Support for him was fleeting, though Joe Denly struck two sixes and a four in a 14-ball 25.
Bopara threatened briefly before departing to that brilliant, one-handed grab by Milne, a moment which nearly took the roof off the Eric Hollies Stand.
In reply, the Phoenix soon lost both openers as Miles Hammond nicked Chris Wood behind and Finn Allen was bowled by Mohammad Amir. Wood conceded just five runs from his first 10 balls and then threw a stunning catch into the mix. Liam Livingstone, having progressed to 19 off 14 balls, launched a blow off Blake Cullen which would have cleared the ropes but was brilliantly held by Wood, racing round the boundary.
Another excellent catch on the rope, by Roelof van der Merwe, did for Daniel Bell-Drummond before Van der Merwe then added the big wicket of Moeen, caught at long off which left the Phoenix under pressure.
However, rather than wilting, Benjamin thrived in the circumstances. He scooped Cullen over third man for six then hooked him over the square rope to put the Phoenix in the box seat. Fittingly, he then struck the winning boundary to seal a thrilling win for the Phoenix.
Earlier London Spirit’s women launched their campaign with a three-wicket victory over Birmingham Phoenix as The Hundred arrived in the second city with a real thriller.
In front of a boisterous 6,317 crowd, the Spirit were faced with the challenge of keeping up with the Joneses after the Phoenix, batting first, were lifted to 128 for six in their 100 balls by local pair Eve and Amy Jones who added 64 in 41 balls.
Only those two got past 13, however, against an accurate Spirit attack led by Charlotte Dean (one for 15 from 15 balls) and Freya Davies (one for 19 from 20). The Spirit then reached their target with four balls to spare after Naomi Dattani (34 off 19 balls) supplied a lightning start and Deepti Sharma added a skilful 28 off 21.
Put in, the Phoenix batters had to work hard for runs against some excellent bowling which limited them to 24 for two from the 25-ball powerplay. Deandra Dottin took a sharp caught-and-bowled to remove Katie Mack and Davies bowled Shafali Verma.
When Heather Knight struck with her first ball, Emily Arlott caught by Dottin in the covers, the Phoenix were struggling at 37 for three after 36 balls.
Eve Jones (47 off 41 balls) and Amy Jones, with 33 from just 17, counter-attacked strongly – the latter, at the ground she has always called home, hitting the first Hundred six in Birmingham.
Their stand was broken when Amy Jones was bowled by Dean. Eve Jones fell three short of a deserved fifty with seven balls left in the innings, caught by Knight off Dottin (two for 28) and after just four runs came from the last five balls, the Spirit left the field at half-time well pleased.
Spirit’s reply took an early jolt when Dottin fell lbw to Issy Wong but Dattani gave her side a thunderous start with three fours and a six from successive balls from Arlott. Dattani was looking dangerous when she chipped Erin Burns’ fifth ball to midwicket, but the foundation she laid meant the Spirit entered the last 50 balls needing just 61.
Knight kept the Spirit momentum high with a brisk 21 but, after the England captain was bowled by Kirstie Gordon, two wickets in three balls from Arlott heaped the pressure back on the Spirit at 108 for six.
That gave Arlott two for 30 while Burns took two for 15, and it was anyone’s game with five needed from six balls. Danielle Gibson, though, settled the matter with two audacious fours from her first two balls.