Trent Rockets 134 for 8 (Hales 40*) beat Northern Superchargers 132 (Simpson 42, Brook 38, de Lange 3-22, Rashid Khan 3-31) by two wickets
Alex Hales sparked into life in the absolute nick of time, to swipe an extraordinary victory from the jaws of a thumping defeat - and he was gifted the opportunity by a game-turning blunder from his former England team-mate Ben Stokes, as Trent Rockets sealed an incredible two-wicket victory on a pulsating night at Trent Bridge.
Chasing a sub-par target of 133, Trent Rockets' chase had been rocked by back-to-back ducks for Dawid Malan and Joe Root, each of them extracted by their Yorkshire and England team-mate Adil Rashid in a sensational start to his spell, and after slumping to 58 for 6 after 58 balls of their chase, their prospects of a revival at one stage dipped as low as 2%, according to the tournament's Win Predictor.
Rashid Khan began their revival with a typically walloping innings of 25 from 12, but once his cameo fizzled out, Rockets' hopes rested entirely on their sleeping giant Hales, who had seemed unable to raise his game while the wickets were tumbling around him. Between balls 49 and 73, he faced a mere four deliveries, and had limped along to 16 from 25 by the 77th, until a moment from Stokes that evoked memories of his own game-turning strokes of fortune in the World Cup final two years ago.
From his 26th delivery, bowled by Rashid, Hales worked a single to mid-off to give up the strike, only for the delivery to be called dead ball due to an intruder on the field. After a lengthy period of remonstration, the ball was served up again, and Hales climbed into a full-blooded drive down the ground to long-off … where Stokes, right back on the boundary and perhaps mindful of his still-problematic broken finger, spilled the chance clean over the rope for six.
Two balls later, Hales carved Rashid through point to ignite his innings in a more conventional fashion, and though Luke Wood was prised out by Mujeeb Ur Rahman, the mood among a 11,483-strong crowd had been transformed. Matt Carter, a late inclusion after a Covid outbreak caused Steven Mullaney to miss the match while self-isolating, backed up a fine bowling display with vital boundary-finding levers, before Hales sealed the chase in a riot of late strokeplay, including a vast winning six, high into the stands at square leg, to finish unbeaten on 40 from 34.
Slow death in prospect
"What a horrific wicket at Old Trafford," Stokes had tweeted after Birmingham Phoenix were routed for 87 on a Bunsen on Sunday. By the end of the Superchargers' Powerplay, his views on this surface would have been similarly unprintable. Trent Bridge was a far cry from the boundary-studded utopia served up for England's recent Pakistan T20I, and instead, on a dry, unyielding deck, slow and even slower was the primary way to go.
Stokes did at least bat first after winning the toss, rightly suspecting that the conditions weren't going to get any easier in Trent Bridge's fourth match in three days. And sure enough, between balls 6 and 45, the Rockets attack served up a non-stop diet of slow, mocking, tweakers - invariably biting the overused surface, and demanding a scruffy, workmanlike response from the Superchargers top-order.
It wasn't initially forthcoming. Chris Lynn wasn't designed to stand on ceremony, and duly carved the second of those spinning deliveries, from the lanky offspinner Carter, straight at Rashid Khan in the covers for 2. Out came Stokes at No. 3, and into the attack - in a pre-Test banter-off - came his England captain Root, an exquisite match-up with shades of Root's ego-channelling of Chris Gayle in the 2016 World T20 final.
Stokes duly spanked Root for a first-ball four through the covers before being beaten off the deck by a snorting offbreak, but he never looked likely to find the right response for the circumstances. Back came Carter and out went Stokes in an ignominious fashion. An attempted reverse hoick could have been a run-out had it not flown away for four overthrows, and after appearing to jar his troublesome finger in the process, he was done in one ball later after slicing a lofted drive to cover.
Simpson, Brook find a happy place
Out of adversity came what looking like being a decisive bout of resistance from Superchargers. A flatlining scoreline of 38 for 3 from 34 balls was revived by a fourth-wicket stand of 61 from 40 balls between two men who are living their best lives this summer. Harry Brook was so nearly the hero at Headingley on Saturday, where his 62 from 31 balls turned a lost cause into a classic. This time his 38 from 30 did a similar job in reverse order, giving a turkey of a contest just enough grit to become a thriller.
At the other end, John Simpson batted as if he was still wearing that beatific smile he had been sporting up on the Lord's balcony at the end of the ODI against Pakistan this month, as he drank in the glories of his improbable England call-up.
It wasn't much to be going with, but they gave it a go all the same. Brook took on the wily Rashid from the outset, hauling each of his first two balls for four before Adam Lyth felt the Afghan's retribution two balls later, and Simpson opted for a similar policy when Rashid returned with 45 balls remaining, hacking three fours in his third five to leave his figures rather dented.
Both men kept on swinging to take some much-needed lumps out of Root and Carter too, until Lewis Gregory brought himself on to change up the pace, and Brook was undone by a sliced drive to point.
Marchant marches on
On a surface such as this, the very best alternative to raw spin is raw pace. It's a recipe that Pakistan have perfected down the years, and Marchant de Lange gave a passable impression of Shoaib Akhtar in another ferocious display, not least with the pinpoint accuracy of his yorkers - albeit most of them were bowled as free hits to atone for his frequent habit of over-stepping.
But, after shredding Southern Brave with figures of 5 for 20 on Saturday, de Lange extended his lead at the top of the wickets charts with three more for 22, the first two coming in a chaotic meltdown as Superchargers lost four in six balls. After Rashid had got the better of his fellow Afghan Mujeeb, David Willey attempted a first-ball ramp but holed out to Samit Patel, sprinting round from deep third, before Brydon Carse sliced a drive to cover for a first-ball duck.
Simpson too would fall to de Lange, with three balls of the innings remaining, but his 42 from 32 seemed to have done the needful.
Bragging rights claimed, then lost
And to think it had all seemed so facile for Superchargers. After Mujeeb had outfoxed D'Arcy Short, Adil Rashid romped into action with the poise of a man who knew the games of the men in his sights inside-out. Malan resisted the fast flat legbreak before being suckered by its loopier cousin, before Root - banished from Headingley for this competition due to Stokes' greater star-power - was served up a moment that may encourage him never to return, as his long-time Yorkshire and England team-mate swallowed a simple return chance after finding a leading edge with a lot of drift and a hint of turn.
Samit Patel bashed a big six over long-off before Callum Parkinson found a thin edge to Simpson, whereupon Stokes played himself to perfection, first blasting Tom Moores from the crease with a lifter before intervening in a Rashid-on-Rashid squabble, as Trent Rockets' Khan crashed Superchargers' Adil for four, six, four, only to be bounced out one ball later as the skipper bent his back to end the nonsense.
Instead, the nonsense was only just beginning.