Paul Stirling proved he has lost none of his firepower as he guided the Southern Braves to another nine wicket victory over Welsh Fire at Sophia Gardens.
The Irishman, who was called into the side for the first time this summer to replace Marcus Stoinis when he returned to Australia, took up where he left in last season’s Hundred by joining Quinton de Kock in a first-wicket run fest.
He notched a record individual score for the Brave with an unbeaten knock of 74 off 42 balls and joined De Kock in a tournament high partnership of 121 for the first wicket – just three short of the best for any wicket of 124 by D’Arcy Short and Dawid Malan for Trent Rockets against the Braves last year.
After George Garton had blasted out three top-flight Fire batters in his opening 10 balls to leave the home side shell-shocked at three for 1, the reigning champions restricted their hosts to 129-8 from their 100 balls.
Despite a 20-minute break for rain when they batted, the Braves didn’t hang around in their chase as they condemned the Fire to a fifth successive defeat to leave them pointless. Stirling started at breakneck speed with two boundaries off David Payne and the Brave were 18 off 10 balls when the teams went off for the rain break.
He then punished George Scrimshaw with four successive fours when the game resumed and the visitors had 40 on the board from the powerplay and brought up their 50 off 63 balls. Stirling then hit Payne for successive sixes to reach his half-century.
The only blot on the Brave’s copybook was the loss of De Kock for 37 with nine runs left to win. They were added within four more balls to see the Brave home with 18 balls to spare.
The home side were seeking their first win of the campaign after four straight defeats and also had revenge in mind having been beaten by nine wickets by the reigning champions in their opening game.
James Vince won the toss and had no hesitation in inserting the Fire on a greasy wicket and with a heavy cloud covering overhead. George Garton opened the bowling and produced one of the finest 10-ball spells in the history of the competition, sending back three batters for only one run.
First to go was James Bethell, caught at the wicket off the second ball for a golden duck. Next up was skipper James Cobb, who also went for a duck, and then Ben Duckett fell to a diving catch behind the wicket by de Kock.
That reduced the Fire to three for 1 and they limped to a record-equalling lowest power play total with the London Spirit of 17 off 25 balls.
Joe Clarke and David Miller dug in and Miller had the honour of striking the first boundary off the 19th ball. Miller was the fourth man out when he was clean bowled by James Fuller for 15 and Clarke followed after a calamitous run-out with Leus du Plooy for 17.
Du Plooy hit three boundaries in his 37 and fellow South African Dwaine Pretorius chipped in with 15 off seven balls. He struck a six to take his side past the lowest total in the tournament, 87, and then hit a four to take his side past their own previous lowest total, 91.
Matt Critchley made hay off the last set of five from Michael Hogan, launching the last two balls for sixes to take his total to 32 and carry the Fire to 129-8.