The Hundred: Southern Brave look the team to beat again after Welsh Fire win

Yes, it is only one game.

Yes, their opponents Welsh Fire were very, very poor.

But as starts to title defences go, Southern Brave’s win in the opening match of The Hundred’s second season was as emphatic as they come.

“They do look like the team to beat.” Not the words of a casual onlooker, but those of a rival captain.

The Brave’s bowlers expertly restricted Welsh Fire to 107-7 from their 100 balls and then their batters cantered to their target with 31 balls and nine wickets to spare.

“Their [quick] bowlers were clinical and professional and their spinners worked well and that is why they are the team to beat again this year,” said Moeen Ali, the England spinner and Birmingham Phoenix captain.

So what makes them so good?

Well, Brave’s perfect night began from the very start.

Craig Overton, one of four England international bowlers in their squad, did not concede a run from the first three balls. He had Joe Clarke, Fire’s big-money signing (£125,000) for this year, caught with the fourth.

Overton bowled 15 of 25 balls in the powerplay – the start of the innings when tight fielding restrictions are in place – and took another wicket, Fire’s England international batter Ollie Pope for just 10.

Fire were 21-3 and could not recover. Chris Jordan, another of Brave’s England international bowlers, took two wickets for 16 runs from his 15 balls.

Ruthless with the new ball and suffocating in the middle overs. West Indies all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite, who played in last year’s Hundred for Manchester Originals, said: “They strangle teams by bowling very defensively and as a result of that they pick up wickets all along the way.”

Brave lost their first two group matches last year but across the two tournaments this was the inaugural champions’ eighth win in a row.

“Having won it last year without having a good start we really wanted to have a good start this year,” Jordan said.

“You saw that in the way we set the tone with the ball.

“Everyone was buzzing around in the field and going for every half chance. It was a good benchmark we set tonight.”

Brave are also astutely led by James Vince, who plays on this ground for his county Hampshire and earlier this season led them to victory in the T20 Blast.

Many of his decisions paid off, like the call to bowl Overton early. Later, when Vince brought Jake Lintott, one of the standout bowlers of last year’s competition, into the attack the spinner took a wicket with his second ball.

Vince himself later elegantly cruised to 71 from 41 balls as Brave recorded their fifth win from five at the Ageas Bowl.

Southampton is proving a difficult place for opponents to come.

“They are very good here,” said Welsh Fire captain Ben Duckett.

“Vincey captains here all year around and he knows this place well. It is a tough place to come and win.”

And, ominously for the other sides, this was an under-strength Brave side.

Their other two England international bowlers – Tymal Mills and George Garton – were out with injury and are expected to return soon.

Their star overseas player Quinton de Kock was absent while playing for South Africa but will be available for the rest of the tournament, starting with their next game – a repeat of last year’s final against Moeen’s Phoenix on Wednesday.

The Fire’s disappointing performance was summed up by the final moment, when Brave secured the win courtesy of a no-ball.

It will take a much better showing from an opponent to end the Brave’s winning run.

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