Moeen Ali was the first to go. He was not to be the last. The victims of spin at Vitality Blast Finals Day were 10 in total, and one of the main offenders was Essex’s South African captain Simon Harmer.
The off-spinner’s stunning display of turn was responsible for seven wickets across the day, four against a seemingly hapless Derbyshire and three in the final against Worcestershire. He was surely the difference between glory and pain for the side that many thought were not good enough to even be at Edgbaston.
It may be fair to say that the pitch played in his favour, but so it did for Moeen Ali and Nottinghamshire’s Matt Carter. Yet it was Harmer who held aloft the coveted trophy; it was Harmer who walked away with such impressive figures – a combined 7-35, the best ever at Finals Day.
And there was more. Harmer took the catch off his own bowling that removed Moeen Ali in the final, as well as the catch that removed the dangerous Ross Whiteley, and then went on to make a much-needed 18 runs off seven balls at the end of the order.
But despite such appearances on such a day, Harmer admitted afterwards that he had been nervous beforehand.
“I heard a lot of things,” he said, “I had a lot of people tell me how Essex have been here four times and lost every semi-final. So, yeah, there were a lot of nerves because of the unknown.”
As soon as that second semi-final began, however, those nerves soon disappeared and were replaced by belief and determination.
“Once we were into the swing of the first game, we played really well,” he added.
“As a competitive sportsman, I wasn’t just going to be happy with finishing second.
“I don’t think you could have scripted it better,” he said, “If you look at my stats through the season playing at Chelmsford, a small ground and a pretty good place to bowl spin, and then to come here with the wicket turning like that – I couldn’t have asked personally for a better day.”
On becoming Essex’s T20 captain, Harmer brought to the side a no-nonsense attitude typical of his homeland. It meant several changes had to be made, and they were not universally popular.
“I want to win trophies and I’m going to do what I feel is best for the team,” he added.
“If individuals don’t think that’s what’s best for the team, then that’s their prerogative. As a captain, the club expects performances so I need to deliver and I need to get 10 other blokes buying into the same plan.
“There were some difficult decisions that needed to be made,” he added, “A couple of players got dropped, senior players. It was not a popular opinion to drop them, but it was best for the team in order to get 11 guys on the park that were all pulling in the same direction.”
If Harmer’s decisive attitude upset some, the 30-year-old must have felt vindicated on Saturday when one change in particular paid off. Ravi Bopara had been pushed down the order by his new T20 skipper early in the campaign. It was not a move that the veteran all-rounder was completely happy about.
“I felt, in order for us to win games, we needed him to come in at six and finish games for us,” Harmer said of Bopara.
“It’s pointless him walking in at three, getting a good ball and then he’s sitting back in the hut.”
In Saturday’s final, Essex’s chase appeared to be faltering. In pursuit of 146, Essex were barely half way home when Bopara strode out to bat and, with only the lower order to remove, Worcestershire must have felt they were on the way to victory.
But the 34 year old, not for the first time in this campaign, showed a cool head and his 36 off 22 balls brought the Southern side back in to the game.
It was Harmer that knocked the winning runs and, fittingly, it was Bopara who was there in the middle with him when those winning runs were struck.
“Sometimes you need to prove people wrong in order to make them believe, and that was the case with him,” Harmer said of Bopara.
“He’s an incredibly talented cricketer. The way he thinks about cricket and the way he bats, the way he bowls, the execution of his skills. He’s an unbelievable player.
“So I can understand his frustration but hopefully, even if it’s not now but five years or ten years down the line, he can maybe sit back and realise that he is best suited for maybe five or six.”
And so, with one new trophy in their cabinet, Essex are now in Taunton seeking a second. Weather depending, a double victory is well within their reach.