The Hundred: Chris Benjamin fires Birmingham Phoenix to win over London Spirit

London Spirit 144-6 (100 balls): Crawley 64, Denly 25; Milne 2-18, Howell 2-25
Birmingham Phoenix 148-7 (97 balls): Moeen 40, Benjamin 24*
Phoenix win by three wickets

Unknown 22-year-old Chris Benjamin catapulted himself into the spotlight by leading Birmingham Phoenix to a stunning last-gasp victory over London Spirit in the men’s Hundred.

In a thrilling finish that swung one way and then the other, Benjamin, who only made his professional debut five days ago, hit 24 not out from 15 balls to take Phoenix to a three-wicket win.

They needed 24 runs from 14 balls when Benny Howell was dismissed but Benjamin smashed two sixes – one of them an audacious reverse scoop over his shoulder – and a four, sending the sizeable home crowd wild.

That left Birmingham requiring one from the last five and, despite Chris Cooke falling, Adam Milne hit the winning runs with three balls to spare.

It capped another entertaining game for The Hundred, which also included stunning catches and expert bowling.

Zak Crawley earlier hit 64 for London Spirit, who are captained by England skipper Eoin Morgan and coached by Australia legend Shane Warne.

From Uni exams to Edgbaston hero

South Africa-born but England-qualified, Benjamin wasn’t even supposed to be playing in The Hundred three days ago.

Wind back a few months and he was sitting exams for an accounting and finance degree at Durham University.

Last Sunday he smashed 60 from 34 balls to take Warwickshire to victory in the Twenty20 Blast and, when fellow wicketkeeper-batter Adam Hose was sidelined with injury, he was called up.

Sunday’s T20 was his first professional match, making him the least experienced player in the competition.

It did not show.

After his sensational scooped six he hit a huge pull over square leg two balls later.

Many in the crowd wouldn’t have heard of him at the start of play but by the end they were singing “oh Benji, Benji…”.

“I still need to pinch myself and wake up from the dream,” he said.

‘The man with 50 different variations’

Another man to impress for Birmingham was bowler Howell.

He is an expert of slower balls – deliveries bowlers use to deceive batters – and claims to have 50 different types. Many bowlers would be happy with one or two.

The 32-year-old used two of those variations to outfox both England captain Morgan and Joe Denly, who were both caught mistiming shots for 13 and 25 respectively.

Howell studies baseball pitchers to help him develop the deliveries, which he has honed when playing in T20 leagues around the world.

One delivery in particular, the knuckle ball – when a bowler holds the ball in the knuckles of his hand rather than the fingers making it loop towards the batter slowly – caught the eye.

“It’s so hard to grip the ball when you bowl a knuckle ball, it’s something I can’t do,” England women’s World Cup-winning captain Heather Knight told the BBC.

“I have immense admiration for those who have mastered it and brought it into their game.”

A night of great catches too

But not only was there amazing batting and bowling, this was a night of great catches.

The best was probably the brilliant display of awareness and skill from Spirit’s Roelof van der Merwe which quietened the vocal crowd, at least for a short while.

On the boundary at long-on he snaffled a high catch but, with his momentum taking him over the rope, tossed the ball in the air, stepped over the boundary edge, steadied himself and then calmly leapt back inside to complete the catch before the ball touched the ground.

Earlier Chris Wood, the Spirit bowler, produced a grab almost as good at fine leg. He was running around the boundary edge chasing a pull from Liam Livingstone and when he caught the ball it was behind him, almost over the boundary at shoulder height.

We should not forget a fine reaction catch from Phoenix bowler Milne either. Ravi Bopara hit a drive back at him and the New Zealander casually stuck out a right hand to cling on in his follow-through.

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