A round-up of a brilliant finale to the group stage of the NatWest T20 Blast.
By Fred Atkins
On the kind of evening that would have given the late Norris McWhirter palpitations, records were shattered, apparently impossible targets were overhauled, there was a rattle from Hastings and the spirit of Mike Bassett, England Manager was revived.
The winner of the “Unluckiest Man To Find Himself On A Losing Side Award”, despite a strong showing from Essex’s Tom Westley, had to go to Aaron Finch. In his final game of the campaign for Yorkshire Vikings against Notts Outlaws at Headingley, the Australian powerhouse blasted 89 from 46 balls, an innings that saw seven sixes and represented a serious danger to traffic on Kirkstall Lane.
Jonny Bairstow’s 60 from 34 balls helped Yorkshire to exactly 200 for five but Alex Hales’ 67 and an unbeaten 35 from England Lions skipper James Taylor saw Notts home by six wickets, with four balls to spare.
With Birmingham Bears winning Yorkshire were eliminated - and as Finch reflected in his post-innings interview on Sky - he now has a 24-hour flight to Melbourne and a series of bleep tests to look forward to.
Yorkshire’s misery was compounded by the news from Edgbaston, where Birmingham made a comparatively modest 160 for six. With Leicestershire Foxes slumping to 27 for four before the powerplay was over, the Bears’ most difficult task was not trying to finish the Foxes off, but trying to concentrate on the job in hand and shut out the news from elsewhere.
Acting skipper Varun Chopra admitted that their plans to ignore what was going at Headingley had been thwarted by the regular updates on the giant scoreboard - but after a 52-run win and a possibly unexpected place in the last eight had been sealed he clearly wasn‘t complaining.
Luke Wright’s domestic record-breaking innings of 153 nearly didn’t happen at all. Sussex Sharks made the elementary error of trying to get through the Dartford Tunnel on a Friday afternoon and spent two hours crawling along the M25 at 5mph.
Wright was reduced to issuing a plea on Twitter: “Is there anyone around the Chelmsford area that would like to open the batting for Sussex tonight?” and the start was delayed by 20 minutes.
When the Sharks finally arrived, Essex Eagles smeared their bowlers to every part of the Essex County Ground, with Westley making 109 from 58 deliveries. Wright lost his opening partner Chris Nash for a duck. He responded with one of the most audacious T20 displays ever seen, an unbeaten knock which included 11 sixes and 12 fours from just 66 balls, meaning Sussex somehow overhauled Essex’s total of 225 for three with nine balls to spare.
On any other night, John Hastings’ match-winning 80 for Durham Jets against Northants Steelbacks at the Riverside would have stolen the headlines.
With both sides already eliminated Hastings might have relished anonymity after his four overs went for 0-50 and helped the Steelbacks to 195 for three. He came in with Durham on 73 for five and scored at very nearly a boundary a ball (3.08 to be precise), making the most of dropped catches when he was on 35 and 74.
Worcestershire Rapids’ presence in the quarter-finals was confirmed by a 28-run over Derbyshire Falcons that owed a lot to an undefeated 84 from Ross Whiteley.
Alex Hughes put Whitely down when he was on 25 and, although he snared Tom Kohler-Cadmore from Wes Durston’s next ball, the drop proved pivotal as by the time Whiteley walked off at the end of the Rapids’ 20 overs, Worcestershire were 209 for four - a total that a middle order collapse ensured Derbyshire would get nowhere near.
Kent Spitfires started the final day with only a theoretical chance of qualifying as they needed to beat Surrey and then hope that both Glamorgan and Somerset would lose.
The first part of the equation was achieved when Surrey’s middle order collapsed. So, like the pivotal scene in Mike Bassett, England Manager the team were left to huddle round a radio (or more realistically an iPad) and pray for assistance from elsewhere.
Unlike Bassett’s fictional team, who were saved by a last-minute goal by Luxembourg, this was real life - and Glamorgan made sure of their place in the knockout stages.