Birmingham Bears and Northants Steelbacks fought out a thrilling tie as runs flowed in the Vitality Blast at Edgbaston.

Despite conceding 229 and 220, having bowled first, in their last two games, Birmingham chose to bowl first again – and the Steelbacks piled up 231 for five.

Richard Levi smashed an unbeaten 95 (52 balls, eight fours, six sixes), during which he passed 5,000 T20 runs, and Josh Cobb  struck 61 (35 balls, four fours, for sixes)

But Birmingham replied with 231 for five of their own as Ian Bell smote his first T20 century (131, 62 balls, 11 fours, seven sixes) and Adam Hose hit 64 (39 balls, seven fours, two sixes). They shared a world record T20 third-wicket stand of 171 from 85 balls and kept their side within sight of a spectacular victory.

Ten runs were required from the last over – and nine came to leave honours even.

The Steelbacks started at a gallop with openers Levi and Ben Duckett clobbering 40 from 19 balls. Duckett edged behind at the start of a wicket-maiden from Boyd Rankin but Levi, reprieved on 22 when he was caught at deep square leg off an Aaron Thomason no ball, took with particular relish to former team-mate Olly Stone.

He thrashed 18 from four balls in Stone’s first over and 28, including four sixes, when the paceman returned to bowl the ninth. Cobb pulled Grant Elliott over the Hollies Stand and the second-wicket stand yielded 129 in 70 balls before Cobb lifted Thomason to deep mid-wicket.

Alex Wakely (18, nine balls) and Rory Kleinweldt (28, 10) kept the momentum high and Levi began the last over needing ten to reach his fourth T20 century. He found just five of them but walked off knowing his team were in a mighty position.

They strengthened that position with two early wickets as Ed Pollock lifted Nathan Buck to mid-off and San Hain chipped a slower ball from Kleinweldt to extra cover.

Bell and Hose batted steadily at first then gradually increased the tempo until they were parted by an unfortunate run out. When Bell was coolly caught right on the extra-cover rope by Procter the pendulum swung back the Steelbacks’ way but 21 needed from the last two overs became ten from the last.

Nathan Buck kept his nerve to bowl a good final over and, rather cruelly after delivering such rich entertainment, both teams had to settle for a point.

Birmingham Bears batsman Ian Bell said:

“It was very pleasing. I feel like I have been playing well this year and you are always striving to get it spot on out there in the middle when it really matters and I felt that most things I tried tonight came off.

“It was a shame that we didn’t quite get over the line but at the halfway point we knew we were chasing 231 and it was a tough ask. As a batting unit we have scored 200-plus in successive games so that gives us a bit of confidence.

“We have given a lot of people a lot of entertainment today, both Northamptonshire and ourselves, and hopefully there were a lot of youngsters watching who will look at that and want to come back in the future and play for Warwickshire and the Birmingham Bears. That’s part of T20 but it was a shame for us not to get the win in the end.”

Northants Steelbacks batsman Richard Levi said:

“Ian Bell played an unbelievable knock. He played it very well and kept us under the pressure and big up to him. To almost chase down 230-odd is a great effort but also big credit to Nathan Buck for the last over. There are not many times a bowler defends ten per over in the last over and to do it on a very good wicket with a short boundary and one of the biggest hitters in the world at the other end in De Grandhomme, he has done very very well there.

“The boundary boards were peppered all game and it was very entertaining, though some of the boys were joking afterwards that it should have just carried on raining and we would have got the point anyway.”