Sussex became the second team to secure their place at Finals Day after a near-perfect performance with the ball and a professional job with the bat condemned Durham to yet another trophyless season.
The southerners dealt superbly with the absence of Rashid Khan and weathered an early assault from Ben Stokes to seal what was, in the end, a comfortable victory.
🦈 WE’RE THROUGH TO FINALS DAY!@LaurieEvans32 is the man to get us over the line! The Sharks win by four wickets.
— Sussex Cricket (@SussexCCC) August 24, 2018
The sense of occasion when the announcer introduced Stokes’s name was palpable. He was initially ruled out of this match by the ECB, but was given permission to play as a batsman alone. Even in county cricket, Stokes plays the showman.
He did not face the first ball – he made us wait. Initially, too, he was worth it: the sounds he made from his bat resounded authoritatively through the ground as he thumped the quick bowlers with the new ball. Stokes plundered Jofra Archer’s second over for sixteen, with no outrageous sixes, but instinctively brilliant, perfectly-timed ‘cricket shots’.
Once the powerplay finished, Luke Wright wisely changed tack and turned to wrist spin – not in the glamorous form of Rashid Khan, but in the homespun, familiar form of Will Beer.
He kept the first five balls tight and – the puns almost write themselves – proved Stokes’s downfall when he beat the bat and rapped him on the pad. The umpire’s finger went up, and Stokes flung his head back in disbelief. Replays suggested he had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice, but there was no right of appeal.
🚨 HUGE MOMENT 🚨
Stokes is given out lbw, ending a very promising innings
— Vitality Blast (@VitalityBlast) August 24, 2018
Stokes’s departure brought to the crease a red-headed England international at the other end of his career and, on today’s showing, a veteran without too many campaigns ahead of him. Paul Collingwood struggled through nine balls for just four, then lurched vaguely down the track towards Beer and was comprehensively bowled.
The squeeze from the spinners yielded wickets. Former England international Danny Briggs held on to his second tough caught and bowled chance of the evening to get rid of Will Smith, before Ryan Davies top-edged an Archer slower ball into the stratosphere, only for the bowler to once again pouch a comfortable catch.
When Mills bowled Mark Wood to leave the hosts 115-7, Durham were at risk of failing to turn up to their own party – Sussex had even brought the Beer, after all. Rimmington and Poynter salvaged the night with occasional boundaries off the death-over pacers, with the highlight a delightful flick down to third man from Rimmington.
Sussex got ahead of the run rate quickly and did not relinquish their hold on the match. Despite the early loss of Phil Salt, who sent a spiralling catch towards Stokes, Sussex never looked at risk of throwing the game away, as Lancashire briefly did last night.
That is not to say that the Sussex innings was without incident or interest. Wright and Evans played some classy high-elbowed off-drives, briefly tempting those of us who have cast Wright’s frustratingly mediocre international career out of our minds into imagining, ‘What if?’. Thankfully, he was dismissed for 12 off 15 to comprehensively remind us all why he no longer dons an England shirt.
The real star of the Sussex chase was not Wright or Evans, but 20-year-old Delray Rawlins in just his seventh T20 appearance. The young Bermudan announced his arrival with a classic back foot straight drive off Rushworth that had even the partisan Riverside crowd murmuring their approval.
All we want for Christmas is the 📞 number to @delraw09's straight drive 😍
— Vitality Blast (@VitalityBlast) August 24, 2018
He held the pose while the applause rippled away. Minutes later, he nailed a reverse sweep – the shot that cost Stokes his wicket – that raced to the ropes. It was a smart riposte to the England star who could offer no response with the ball due to an ECB order.
Then it all started to get ugly for the home team. Rawlins, emboldened by his impressive start, appeared to have holed out to Rushworth at long off, but the seamer put down the relatively straightforward chance. Another chance went down at the ropes overs later, frustration crept in, bringing with it wides and further fielding errors.
When Stokes put down David Wiese running in from the boundary, Durham fans knew for certain that they were not going to reprise the magnificent turnaround they pulled off against Lancashire at Old Trafford in the group stages.
Even when Rawlins departed for a memorable 42, Sussex doused any hopes of a collapse and proceeded inexorably towards their target. Evans was just as integral to Sussex’s win. It was fitting, therefore, that he hit the winning runs with two boundaries off Graham Clark.
If you were to ask most of the Durham fans to recall how the final runs were scored, they would have found it very difficult to give you an answer – many of them were already heading for the exit, as were their team.