Sussex’s crushing triumph over a lacklustre Essex side was not enough to see the hosts through to the quarter-finals of the Natwest T20 Blast, falling to progress after Somerset blitzed through Hampshire, vaulting their net run rate above the Sharks and sealing fourth spot.
Both sides entered the game knowing only a win would see them in the knockout stages in an incredibly tight South Group, with six teams still in the mix for the final two qualification spots. Essex had suffered a tight defeat the night before against Kent and came into the game knowing a quick victory was required to transform their weaker net run rate. Sussex had lost badly at the Oval last weekend but were in a strong position with the second best net run rate of potential qualifiers, and a home tie in front of a raucous Hove crowd. The Eagles were unchanged from their Kent clash, but Adam Wheater’s injury appeared to leave the team a batsman light: the slew of all-rounders needed to fire if they were to win.
The Sharks have this week lost Ross Taylor back to New Zealand for personal reasons; the captain had been sub-par with the bat and had made questionable decisions with his bowling attack but offered valuable experience. Highly-rated left-arm quick George Garton replaced him in a side with six frontline bowlers.
Ryan Ten Doeschate won the toss and elected to field. Stand-in Sussex captain Ben Brown noted at the toss that he would have bowled also, but remarked that he was not hugely disappointed to be batting. Chris Nash and Luke Wright are one of the most experienced and prolific opening duos in domestic T20 cricket and set about setting up the innings with a flying start in the power play. Good opening overs from Mohammad Amir and Paul Walter strangled the free-scoring pair initially, but a swipe over mid-off in the Jamie Porter’s third over set Wright on his way with a flat six. Nash hit his stride with a flicked six to the forward square leg boundary in the next over. Mohammad Amir returned for the fifth over and would have had Nash caught at deep square leg barring Callum Taylor losing the ball in the evening sun, and Amir’s histrionics in response would later prove foolhardy. The 6th over went for twelve thanks to another legside six from Wright, 54-0 in thepower play a solid start.
The middle overs started superbly for the south-coast men, Ravi Bopara going for ten and then former Shark Ashar Zaidi’s left arm spin being dismissed for 17. At 81-0 entering the 9th over 200 seemed a real possibility, but Bopara mix of slower balls and back of a length accuracy proved difficult to score off. Wright felt he had to accelerate, hoisting the medium pacer to long-off where Ten Doeschate took a superb catch, tossing the ball to himself to prevent stepping over the boundary. New man Stiaan Van Zyl didn’t face a ball, called through for a suicidal single by Nash and run out by Dan Lawrence.
Nash and Brown tried to build, the latter fortunate when Amir lost the ball in the lights, dropping a simple catch at short fine leg (he would later lose sight of the ball again at cover). Nash reached a 35-ball 50 in the 11th over, his sixth of the season; fourth top run scorer in the Blast at the end of the group stage suggesting the veteran is far from finished at T20 level. Brown would go quickly, however, a leg side wide missed attempting a pull, pivoting out of his crease and quick work from James Foster off Simon Harmer stumped the wicketkeeper-batsman. Harmer bowled well, the off spinner’s accuracy from around the wicket constricting scoring chances, figures of 1-26 from his four overs.
Laurie Evans was in next and solidified in a partnership of 68 with an increasingly hampered Nash, who was forced to call for a runner. Both displayed a range of strokes with clever dabs and flicks bringing boundaries backward of square. Nash’s downfall came about attempting a paddle sweep wide outside off, clipping the top of his stumps on a well-timed scoop that otherwise would have careered to the boundary. Evans launched a couple of monster sixes and an audacious reverse flick for 4, taking the Sharks to 172-4 off their 20 overs. This seemed a par score, with the Sharks feeling they probably should have made at least 180 given the flying start. Amir’s 19th over was outstanding with just three from it, the Pakistani displaying just how good a bowler he has become since his return to first-class cricket.
Essex knew at this point that they would have to chase down the total inside around 13 overs due to predicted outcomes elsewhere, a mammoth task that proved far beyond the Eagles on a pitch offering help to spinners and intelligent change of pace seamers. Sussex had opened the bowling with Danny Briggs and David Wiese extensively through the year and followed suit here, and it payed dividends in the opening Briggs over. Varun Chopra had made a century the night before but could only pick out George Garton on the midwicket boundary, a good catch dismissing the opener for 1. Wiese and Jofra Archer went for 20 in the following two overs as Dan Lawrence briefly frightened the Sharks, the youngster showing his immense potential and clean ball striking. The South African all-rounder Wiese is a canny and experienced operator and returned to claim both Lawrence and Bopara in his second over, Phil Salt at cover (on as sub for Nash) and keeper Brown taking good catches.
Briggs dropped a steepler off Archer and the Bajan ripped a yorker through Ten Doeschate but the flow of wickets was only briefly stopped, Chris Jordan’s second delivery a leg side short ball that James Foster gloved to Brown. Spin twins Briggs and Will Beer bowled superbly in tandem: the former firing in his left arm orthodox and the latter tossing up leg spinners. Ashar Zaidi swept Beer’s first ball to Salt who took another catch at deep backward square and Sussex eyed a quick victory to bolster their net run rate. Ten Doeschate’s promising knock ended with a good catch at long on by a sprinting Chris Jordan to his left off Beer, and Callum Taylor was castled sweeping to plunge Essex to 65-7. The jugular was exposed, but the Sharks faced resistance from Paul Walter and Simon Harmer. They would later rue letting Essex get as many runs as they did.
News broke in the press box of Hampshire’s home implosion, and Somerset’s enormous net run rate swing. Tymal Mills, hampered again by injury, was on commentary for BBC Sussex and burst into the press box desperate to know the situation with regard to qualification. It was soon realised that Essex had got too many; Sussex were out on net run rate, Mills cutting a dejected figure as he slunk out muttering. The Eagles were eventually 117 all out, and the celebrations both in the crowd and of the Sussex players suggested they were blissfully unaware of the Ageas Bowl result. Surrey triumphed over Kent to secure third spot: Glamorgan and Hampshire already through, Somerset claiming fourth in the group.
The Sharks will be wondering what they have to do to progress in white ball competitions. Twice this year they have been confined to fifth spot, in the Royal London One Day Cup due to fewer wins despite a massively superior run rate. Rain had crippled both campaigns also. They will rue the tie against Kent and loss at Lords; both games should have resulted in wins with favourable runs required from the last over.
Essex will be disappointed also, but realistically will look forward to resuming their quest for the title in Division One with no more white-ball distractions. Sussex will resume their promotion charge in Division Two where again they may face a tight finish to gain the second promotion spot over Northants, Worcestershire and Kent. They will hope for a better outcome in that format, the Blast ultimately ending in dismay despite a big victory over the Essex Eagles at Hove.