Worcestershire Rapids battle to qualify for the knockout stages of the Vitality Blast will go down to the wire after a 17 run setback against Birmingham Bears at Edgbaston.
The Rapids will now need to overcome Leicestershire Foxes in Sunday evening’s meeting at the Uptonsteel County Ground to finish in either third or fourth spot and reach the quarter-finals.
They appeared to be well in control after reducing the Bears to 63-5 with spinners Ish Sodhi and Brett D’Oliveira, both bowling tight spells in the middle overs.
But late hitting from Sam Hain and Carlos Brathwaite gave Birmingham momentum and lifted their total to a challenging 169-5.
The Rapids were on a par with their local rivals for the first three-quarters of their innings, with Jake Libby and Daryl Mitchell making valuable contributions.
But, despite some lusty late blows from Ed Barnard and Ross Whiteley, the Rapids fell short on 152-6 as the Birmingham Bears regained the Norman Gifford Trophy.
Rapids captain Ben Cox said: “We can’t dwell on it. We needed one win from the last two games, and it’s going to have to go down to the wire on the last day.
“I thought we were unlucky tonight. Bowlers have plans, and they played well. I thought we were in the game until the 16th over, and then they started getting hold of us, which can happen.
“On that wicket, which was a bit tricky, because they had to rebuild, those boys (Hain and Brathwaite) got to spend time at the crease, and they were in at the death, which was crucial.
“They knew the conditions, the areas they could hit to whereas all of us lads, we gave ourselves the deliveries to get in, and every time we tried to push things on, we got caught out.
“If one of those goes either side of the fielders, we are on our way. It’s small margins, and unfortunately, they didn’t go our way today.
“I thought their boys bowled exceptionally well at the death.”
Jack Haynes came into the Rapids side for his first appearance of the season in the Blast after recovering from injury.
Birmingham opted to bat, and Ben Dwarshuis struck in his first over as Ed Pollock (4) had his leg stump knocked back by a fine delivery.
It became two wickets in two overs as Dillon Pennington found the inside of Adam Hose’s bat, and he dragged the ball onto his stumps before he had scored.
Will Rhodes showed positive intent with a scoop shot off Dwarshuis over Rapids captain and keeper Ben Cox for six, but on 11, he sliced a Pennington delivery into the hands of Ish Sodhi at short third man.
The Bears were restricted to 43-3 in the initial six-over powerplay – and the wickets continued to tumble.
Birmingham debutant, Kyle Mayers, made 13 but then lofted Barnard into the hands of D’Oliveira at long-on.
D’Oliveira entered the attack and held onto a return catch from Rob Yates (1).
With the pace taken off the ball, Sodhi, D’Oliveira and Daryl Mitchell proved challenging to force the scoring rate up, and the 100 did not come up to the 15th over.
Sodhi finished with the excellent figures of 4-0-24-0 and D’Oliveira 4-0-23-1, and the Rapids were in control at 107-5 from 16 overs.
But Hain completed a 38 ball half-century, and some late hitting by the Bears middle-order batsman (83 not out) and Brathwaite (52 not out) yielded 62 runs from the final four overs.
Spinner Danny Briggs took the new ball for Birmingham, and in his first over, D’Oliveira (1) was bowled off his pads.
Haynes made a breezy 15 before he holed out to deep mid-wicket off Briggs.
The Rapids reached 37-2 in the initial powerplay, and Mitchell, promoted to number four, started to up the tempo.
He collected successive boundaries left-arm wrist spinner Jake Lintott and scored 29 from 21 balls before picking out Hose at deep mid-wicket off Craig Miles.
Briggs replicated the impact made by Sodhi and D’Oliveira as the scoring rate increased.
Libby made 36 off 33 balls before backing away to make room against Rhodes and being caught at deep extra cover.
The Rapids 100 came up in the 15th over – the same over as the Bears.
Cox (16) went for a reverse sweep and found the hands of backward point off Rhodes.
Barnard and Whiteley both hit sixes in an over from Brathwaite, costing 20 runs to keep Rapids hopes alive.
Barnard (13 off six balls) was bowled by Miles, but Whiteley (28 not out off 19 balls) again cleared the boundary at the expense of the same bowler.
But tight bowling at the death from Brathwaite and Miles proved too difficult to overcome.