First Semi-Final – Essex v Hampshire
Essex beat Hampshire to reach T20 Final
No side has ever retained the T20 title and holders Hampshire failed at the semi-final stage as Essex made their way to the Final, winning by five wickets thanks to two sixes in the last over of a rain affected game.
After Hampshire scored 170-7 off their full 20 overs, Essex were on 19-1 off 2.5 overs when the rain that had been forecast finally reached Edgbaston.
Faced with a revised target of a further 96 off 12 overs, Essex were always in the hunt. If 13 of the last over from Nathan Ellis appeared daunting, Matt Critchley and Simon Harmer soon dispelled any doubts. Player of the match Critchley struck a six over long off, then took a single and Simon Harmer hammered the next delivery over mid wicket for another six to take Essex home.
Before the rain, Essex had made a bad start when, in the first over, Adam Rossington swung Chris Wood down to long leg where Joe Weatherley took a well judged catch. There was just time for Liam Dawson to drop a skier from Dan Lawrence when the rain came.
In the shortened chase, Dan Lawrence and Michael Pepper threatened to take charge but both fell to James Fuller. With a long batting line-up, Essex were able to come though thanks to some smart hitting by Daniel Sams (29 off 17) and Critchley (26 off 14). They hit five sixes between them before that final maximum from Harmer.
At the start of the game, Hampshire, having been put into bat, got off to a flyer, with Ben McDermott punishing some loose bowling from Aaron Beard and Daniel Sams. But in the third over, McDermott hit a short ball from Sam Cook straight down the throat of Sams at deep square leg. And in the next over, Shane Snater claimed the biggest prize when James Vince drove hard but straight to mid-off.
At the end of the power play, Hampshire were 55-2 with honours about even. But when Matt Critchley had Tom Prest lbw and Liam Dawson skied Simon Harmer to cover, Hampshire were 78-4 and the balance had shifted. Prest gave Critchley his 100th T20 wicket.
Joe Weatherley never really dominated the bowlers but scored steadily – and, unlike his partners, he didn’t get out!James Fuller impressed briefly but fell to Critchley, who was the pick of the Essex bowlers and finished with 2-22.
Paul Walter became the seventh Essex bowler to be used and claimed Ross Whiteley who skied to third man. At 130-6 after 17 overs, the Hampshire innings could have subsided; but Weatherley, supported by Benny Howell, saw them to 170, with Howell falling to the last ball of the innings. Weatherley finished unbeaten on 63 off 39 balls, with four fours and two sixes.
Would 170 have been enough over the full 20 overs? We shall never know. Essex’s decision to bat second with rain in the offing was undoubtedly important. Matt Critchley agreed after the game that the short chase favoured Essex. He also revealed that those in the middle aren’t necessarily fully aware of the situation at the death: “I didn’t know we had won when Harmie (Simon Harmer) hit the six. Probably me being a bit dopey.”
Essex will no doubt be glad of more such dopeyness in the Final.
After the game, Essex captain Simon Harmer expressed confidence when looking ahead to the Final. “We’ll switch off a little bit and hopefully go well.” He did identify areas for improvement: “We had a bit of a slow start, probably our slowest in the tournament. Bowling first, we could have been better in our first few overs. There was enough in the wicket if we hit the top of the stumps but we missed our lengths a little bit. Those are the two things we want to improve on.
Asked about the final over, Harmer said that he picked Nathan Ellis’s slower ball that he struck for the winning six.
For the losers, top scorer Joe Weatherley said that, but for the rain, he felt that 170 was an above-par score so losing the toss was important. It was a true pitch but with a bit of hold in it that largely disappeared after the rain.
Whilst obviously disappointed, Joe felt that, overall, Hampshire were a better team than last year and had played better cricket in both white and red ball formats.