Simon Harmer and Ravi Bopara guide Essex to their first T20 Blast title, bringing it down to the final ball in what was a fitting finish to the Blast season as we know it.
The stage was set for a thrilling final between two teams representing both groups, with Worcestershire Rapids making it for the North group and Essex Eagles being the solitary South Group side to progress to Finals Day.
And that is what we got…
After a day of Sweet Caroline, fancy dress in the Hollies, too many beach balls confiscated and Mr Motivator performing a fitness routine, the grand occasion was about to take place between Essex and Worcestershire.
Essex won the toss and chose to bowl first, which initially looked a decision set to pay off as with the third ball of the innings Dan Lawrence bowled Hamish Rutherford for 5. This wicket brought the superstar that is Moeen Ali to the crease, who had an immediate impact hitting 12 off his first 4 balls.
However, once Harmer came into the attack after the powerplay, which Worcestershire finished on 47/1, Ali was dismissed, bowled for 32 off 26 balls. Harmer’s day continued to get better and better and with the next ball he trapped Ben Cox lbw without scoring, meaning he was on a hat trick. Wayne Parnell managed to survive a very strong LBW appeal from Harmer to nearly give him his hat trick, although in the next over Harmer did dismiss Parnell, bowled for 19.
The Rapids reached their 100 in the 15th over on what was evidently a slow wicket, however wickets continued to wall as they struggled to accelerate, Riki Wessels being ran out by a great direct hit from Paul Walter for 31 off 34 balls.
Daryl Mitchell was then caught for 19 off Lawrence’s bowling to give him is second wicket, as the Rapids reached 120 for the loss of 6 with three overs remaining. Ross Whiteley, who usually shows incredibly clean striking, mistimed one that landed in the hands of Harmer in the deep for 7.
Going into the final over, the Rapids were on 135/7, with two wickets falling and 10 runs coming off the over – Banard was caught for 5 and D’Oliveria was caught for 10 off the final ball as Worcestershire made 145/9, setting Essex 146 to win.
Essex set out on their chase of 146, which did not get off to the best start. Parnell took the wicket of Cameron Delport with the third ball of the innings, caught in the deep for 1. Adam Wheater and Tom Westley steadied after that loss, as they reached 36/1 at the end of the powerplay.
Worcestershire Rapids continued to bowl well and take advantage of their slower bowlers on a paceless wicket, restricting runs and making Essex work hard for boundaries, and they got their reward when Wheater was bowled in the 8th over by Mitchell.
The Eagles were needing 83 at the halfway stage, when Westley was dismissed to an excellent knee-sliding catch by Pat Brown on the boundary for 36. Soon after, Ryan ten Doeschate was caught for 1 off Ali’s bowling to give him his first wicket. His second wicket came when Dan Lawrence tried to hit a long boundary, but it scooped out of the sky by an incredible Wessels catch on the boundary for 23.
Ravi Bopara, who had watched his team-mates struggle to show intent on the slow wicket, came out with the aim of accelerating, and he increased Essex’s run rate to get the game back in the balance after their flurry of wickets. His intent paid off in the final overs.
With 3 overs remaining, 30 runs were needed and, with Bopara still there, was there a chance for him to be the hero? He reduced the deficit to 23 off 2 overs, but a wicket fell in 19th as Brown bowled Walter for 14.
The last over came, and Essex needed 12 off the final 6 balls. Parnell was to bowl it, hoping to defend the Worcestershire title.
With under pressure being played around a tense Edgbaston, Parnell began his over. It was a very good start, leaving Eagles needing 8 off 3.
Then came a four with the fourth ball, which left them needing 2 off the final ball. With the loss of wickets as they were, it needed to be a dot ball. Even a single meant Essex would win.
Bopara hit the ball toward the boundary and the Essex supporters went wild. Essex took the title by 4 wickets.
Bopara finished not out on an incredibly important 36 off 22 balls. Essex’s vintage hero does it again for his side.