You could almost feel the relief reverberate around Chelmsford when Warwickshire were eliminated from this competition. To say the Bears had been Essex’s knockout hoo-doo in the past two years would be an understatement, with Warwickshire and their alter ego Birmingham knocking the Eagles off their perch three times in the Natwest Blast and Royal London One-Day Cup in the last two seasons. Seeing Yorkshire’s name on the other half of the scorecard there provided a welcome change for the East Anglian faithful.
But Yorkshire themselves are not a walkover. The County champions have been the dominant force of first-class cricket in England in the last 18 months, but a lack of limited-overs success has left those at Headingley wanting, and expecting, far more. An RLODC semi-final is at least a start.
Essex won the toss and elected to field at their “fortress”, an approach becoming all the more favoured, which yielded early results as Alex Lees feathered Reece Topley behind to the grateful James Foster. Topley, named in England’s T20I squad, has already been earmarked as being part of the international short format plans, and he did his chances no harm with four wickets to restrict Yorkshire to 252/9, perhaps a fraction under par given the small boundaries at Chelmsford.
Jack Leaning was a big part of getting Yorkshire as many runs as they did, making 72 from 99 balls as wickets fell around him. The hosts picked up wickets at key intervals to stop Yorkshire making any more than the one 50-partnership from their top order. Gary Ballance (32) at least provided some support for his junior colleague after fellow England Test man Adam Lyth made 36 before being bowled by Jamie Porter.
Despite going wicketless, David Masters, as is so often the case, proved miserly and the pick of the Essex bowlers in the absence of Graham Napier, going for just 29 from his ten overs as wickets tumbled at the other end to keep last year’s semi-finalists on top. At 202/9, Yorkshire must have been concerned at falling for a score far below a defendable effort, but their ability to bat deep has always been a factor in their success in the game’s longer format.
Liam Plunkett, boasting 22 half-centuries in all forms, came in at nine to boost the visitors with some late, lusty blows alongside some spirited running with Matthew Fisher at the other end. 50 runs later in just over five overs, and the smiles were back on the faces of a side who hadn’t reached the semi-finals since 2010.
Essex’s chase began in disastrous fashion as Mark Pettini was sent back to the pavilion with just three on the scoreboard, a Nick Browne drive flicking the fingers of bowler Tim Bresnan and crashing into the stumps to have Pettini run-out at the non-striker’s end. Bad luck or not, it’s one for you to decide. Browne and Tom Westley had looked set to lead the Eagles’ recovery in making 92 for the second wicket, but three wickets in the space of three overs – including that of mercurial danger man Jesse Ryder – left Essex wobbling on 100/4 with Plunkett continuing his good form in the game with wickets in consecutive overs as part of his three for 58.
But like Yorkshire, Essex harbour plenty of batting in their line-up, even without the all-round credentials of Napier. Once Ryan ten Doeschate (58) and James Foster (30) were both sent back by the ever-improving Will Rhodes, however, the tail were unable to provide the remaining runs to finish 20 runs short in front of their home crowd.
Yorkshire’s reward is a home tie against Gloucestershire, themselves without a place in the Lord’s final since 2004, as they look to complete a County Championship and One-Day double. It would take a brave person to bet against them.