Oval Invincibles skipper Sam Billings steered his side into their first Hundred final with a display of ruthless hitting to beat current champions Trent Rockets.
Billings, who had endured a lean tournament with the bat – averaging 12.5 in his previous seven innings – rediscovered form just in time to rubber-stamp top spot in the table and an automatic place in Sunday’s final.
He struck 76 not out from 40 balls as the Invincibles chased down their opponents’ total of 148-7 at the Kia Oval, overcoming a brief wobble after three wickets had fallen in three deliveries to share a partnership of 73 from 40 with Will Jacks.
Billings completed the win with a six off Ish Sodhi to leave the Rockets’ hopes of defending their crown hanging by a thread.
With victory essential, the Rockets opted to bat after winning the toss but none of their top-order batters managed to build on useful starts.
Alex Hales was first to go, holing out to deep third and Joe Root – having reverse-ramped Spencer Johnson for six – was undone by a ball that skidded through to hit the top of middle and off.
Sam Hain’s bustling knock of 16 from 10 came to an end when he slapped a return catch to Adam Zampa and, when fellow leg-spinner Nathan Sowter had Tom Kohler-Cadmore caught in the deep, the visitors were 54-4.
Colin Munro took on both spinners, dispatching them over the top for sixes and rebuilt the Rockets’ innings in tandem with Lewis Gregory, who capitalised on being dropped at point by Tom Curran to share in a partnership of 70 from 46.
Zampa eventually broke the stand, tempting Munro (36 from 25) with a slower ball that he skied to mid-off and Tom Curran made amends for his earlier fumble during the next set as Gregory (35 from 24) top-edged a paddle to Billings.
A late flurry of boundaries by Daniel Sams, with 19 from nine, boosted the Rockets in the death overs but their total looked unlikely to seriously trouble the home side, particularly after Jason Roy made early inroads with 19 from 13.
Yet Roy’s wicket was the first of three to fall in as many deliveries, including two to Sams, as Sodhi took a stunning one-handed catch at full stretch to dismiss Tawanda Muyeye and Sam Curran was castled by the next.
However, Jacks – who had only faced two of the first 20 balls – steadied the ship by drilling Luke Wood over cover for two sixes and Billings then seized control, hammering Sodhi twice into the upper tier at the Vauxhall End.
Billings picked out the gaps expertly, pulling Matt Carter for successive fours, but the stand ended when Jacks chopped on to Sam Cook and Jimmy Neesham’s departure followed with 48 still required.
But Tom Curran kept his captain company with an unbeaten 18 and Billings finished the job in style, with eight balls unused.
There’s another double header as Northern Superchargers take on Welsh Fire on Tuesday with the Women first up from 3pm before the Men at 6.30pm.
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