Manchester Originals 153 for 3 (Clarke 58) beat Welsh Fire 150 for 6 (du Plooy 43, Hartley 2-12) by seven wickets
Joe Clarke produced a match-seizing innings of 58 from 31 balls - ably supported by Phil Salt in an opening stand of 94 from 48 balls - before Colin Munro and Colin Ackermann banished any late jitters with a brace of evenly-paced cameos, as Manchester Originals ended Welsh Fire's unbeaten start to the tournament with the second win of their own campaign, a seven-wicket victory with five balls to spare at Cardiff.
After winning the toss and batting first, Fire posted a competitive total of 150 for 6, thanks largely to Leus du Plooy's hard-hitting innings of 43 from 21 balls, allied to scores of 32 and 30 from Ben Duckett and Matt Critchley. However, the suspicion at the halfway point was that that total was 10-15 runs light on a surface that offered good value for strokeplay. Clarke set out to prove just that, bursting out of the blocks with four fours and four sixes in an innings that allowed Originals to coast to victory in the back-end of their chase.
Hartley makes hay in Bairstow's absence
It's hard to imagine any team has been more scuppered by a big-name absence than Welsh Fire by Jonny Bairstow's England Test recall - as Gary Kirsten, in one of his now habitual embargo-busting faux pas, outlined to talkSPORT prior to the start of the competition.
To lose their captain after two games was unsettling enough, but Fire have also lost their single most important batter too - the man whose back-to-back fifties had powered them to victories in each of their opening games. And in his absence at the top of the order, Originals capitalised with two early breakthroughs, courtesy of Tom Hartley's understated left-arm spin.
After a brace of seam-up sets from Steven Finn and Carlos Brathwaite, Hartley entered the fray for ball 11, and by the end of his first back-to-back ten, he had extracted both Josh Cobb and Tom Banton - each of them unwitting victims of Cardiff's tempting short, straight boundaries that encourage drives back through the line.
Cobb was the first to go, overshadowed in the opening exchanges as Tom Banton picked off a brace of early fours, then frustrated by Hartley's tight line for two more dots in a row. His third ball, however, was a full toss, but he drilled it straight back at the bowler's shins, who stooped well to prise the first wicket.
Banton added his third four soon afterwards, a firm pull through square leg, but Hartley held his nerve, and his length - drawing Banton out of the crease for an elegant loft… straight into the hands of Calvin Harrison at long-on. At 21 for 2 after 18 balls, Fire were spluttering from the outset.
Derbyshire pairing have a Blast
There's no preparation like no preparation. Du Plooy spent ten days in isolation prior to his late arrival in the Welsh Fire squad, after getting caught up in the Covid outbreak that caused the abandonment of Derbyshire's County Championship fixture with Essex earlier this month - as well as the cancellation of the club's final Vitality Blast fixtures.
But at the first time of asking, both du Plooy and his county team-mate, Critchley (in his third match but batting for the first time) brought a taste of the Derbyshire Blast action that had earned each of them a call-up to the competition - Critchley in the redraft after going unpicked in 2019, and du Plooy as a wildcard, after being released from his original Fire contract.
Du Plooy arrived with Fire in some strife at 62 for 3 after 54 balls, following the end of a stuttering innings from Glenn Phillips, and that scoreline got worse moments later when Ben Duckett, their mainstay in the top half of the innings, was brilliantly run out by Ackermann in his followthrough.
With the pressure on two new batters, the legspin of Matt Parkinson was Brathwaite's attacking response - and he was content to bowl him straight through for ten balls in the expectation of buying another innings-breaking wicket. But du Plooy was equal to the threat, clouting him for a brace of sixes down the ground, including a smear over long-on that landed in the River Taff.
Five balls later, the return of Lockie Ferguson's out-and-out pace brought a similar response - a 91mph length ball was pinged by du Plooy back over his head for a third six, and he added a fourth six - a fierce pull off Finn over square leg - three balls before Brathwaite's extra height at mid-off brought an end to his rampage, on a valuable 43 from 21.
Critchley, by this stage, was very much into his own stride. Twice in as many sets from Brathwaite, he picked off back-to-back fours - from a brace of slower balls in the first innings (the latter a touch streaky), and a brace of yorkers in the second, from the 94th and 95th balls, as he finished unbeaten on 30 from 17. Let's hope their relative success was some consolation for the Derbyshire faithful who have seen their usual fare ransacked in recent times.
Clarke takes his chance
Clarke is widely considered to be the best uncapped white-ball batter in the country, and this was a performance that underlined exactly why. In the absence of Jos Buttler (like Bairstow co-opted for Test duty) he stepped up to open the Originals innings in a seamless transfer of power. At the age of 25, and with a number of off-field incidents now seemingly pushed to the back of his thoughts, he produced the sort of performance to reignite those England ambitions.
Talking of England, it's not impossible that Clarke might have been considered for the emergency ODI squad against Pakistan last month, had he not been isolating at the time - and he confirmed to Rob Key on Sky Sports that he had indeed contracted Covid himself. That too was firmly behind him as he showcased his qualities of power, timing and acceleration.
It was Salt, his partner, who landed the earliest blows in the Powerplay -as he is wont to do in his full-throttle style, as Jake Ball was hacked for two fours in his first three balls, the first of them a fat inside-edge that confirmed that fortune favours the brave. But having taken a few sighters off David Payne to find his own range, Clarke's first shot in anger was a formidable statement of intent - an 86-metre munching over long-on, as Payne followed him into the slot and got carted for his troubles.
Jake Ball was battered for two fours in a row before limping out of the attack after landing awkwardly in his followthrough, and when Duckett turned to a spin-heavy mid-innings diet, Clarke was primed to strike. It was Critchley's leg-spin that felt his full wrath in a wrecking-ball of a set that leaked 21 runs, including two full-tosses, launched into the stands, the latter after a front-foot no-ball had also been rifled through the covers for four. Two balls later, he nailed James Neesham to bring up a 25-ball fifty, and Fire's challenge was already beginning to fizzle.