Arguably the best was saved until last in the NatWest T20 Blast, with Friday’s final group games being littered with a glut of quite extraordinary performances of individual brilliant.
Heading into the final furlong, four counties were sure of extending their Twenty20 journey whilst another – Nottinghamshire – were barring a highly implausible scenario of events all but assured of a spot in the final eight.
That left six counties to scrap it out on Friday night’s group stage curtain closer – third and fourth place still up in the air in the North division and the final spot in the South yet to be designated.
Before the drama of Friday could fully unfold, Nottinghamshire had the chance to not only ink in their last eight spot but tighten their grip on a home quarter-final – with defending champions Northamptonshire their Thursday night opponents.
Northants have looked a completely different animal to the side who won so many hearts lifting the trophy against the odds in 2013 – that disparity being highlighted by the ease in which Notts were able to power to a 22 runs victory.
NatWest T20 Blast quarter-final line-up
1st August: Lancashire v Glamorgan
2nd August: Essex v Warwickshire
2nd August: Surrey v Worcestershire
3rd August: Nottinghamshire v Hampshire
Notts’ victory left a final-day squabble between Worcestershire, Yorkshire and Birmingham, for the remaining qualification births – the former pair knowing wins would ensure the continuation of their respective adventures.
Birmingham ensured those victories would be required by completing a routine success over Leicestershire. Like the bulk of their wins to date it was a result based around a miserly bowling effort with the Foxes bundled out for 108 in response to 160.
A home clash with Derbyshire represented the ideal fixture for Worcestershire’s make or break clash and having amassed a daunting 209 in their allotted overs Daryl Mitchell’s side looked set to progress trauma free.
Derbyshire to their credit however made a respectable fist of the imposing chase, although Worcestershire seemingly always had the basement side at arms lengths – that was until Wayne Madsen and Billy Godleman combined early in the eleventh over to launch a remarkable assault that consisted of 56 runs in only 4.2 overs.
Madsen and Godleman’s heroics meant things were suddenly tetchy at New Road, with just 58 needed from the final five overs meaning the unthinkable was a serious possibility – thankfully for Worcestershire Jack Shantry was able to restore order and with it lift the tension considerably by removing Godleman in a 16th over that cost just five runs.
From that position Derbyshire showcased the traits of a side with only one win to their name – eventually falling 28 short of their buoyant hosts.
At Headingly Yorkshire looked to be rendering Birmingham’s victory worthless, the home side racking up 200 from their 20 – a total considered somewhat over par. That said Notts’ talent blessed line-up have the ability to chase down even the most formidable of score and throughout they remained within touching distance of the required rate.
The wickets of Alex Hales – who exited just as he was moving through the gears in the 15th over - and Samit Patel – who departed with 39 still needed of 17 – however appeared to swing the pendulum fatally in Yorkshire’s favour. There would nonetheless be the most astonishing of stings in the qualification tale, with James Taylor and James Franklin blitzing 39 off just 13 balls to guide Notts to the most unlikely of home quarter-finals – with it leaving the Yorkshire bewildered as to quite how they left with nothing.
There is little doubt that Notts’ supreme smash and grab was the fixture of the tournament to date, that unfortunately will be little consolation to the exiting Yorkshire. Amidst the carnage at Headingley it is worth sparring a thought for Northants whose miserable campaign was compounded by Durham chasing down 195, in spite of being reduced to 73 for five with a ball of the 11th over remaining.
In the South division, prior to cracking the final qualification spot equation, two midweek fixtures would decide who would be joining Essex in claiming the luxury of a home quarter-final – Hampshire and Surrey the sides vying for that right.
Surrey were the undoubted favourites knowing that a victory in one of their two remaining fixtures would secure another Twenty20 fixture on home turf, however on Tuesday night Hampshire had the opportunity to place at least a certain degree of pressure.
Hampshire kept their end of the bargain picking up a hugely impressive victory over leaders Essex at Chelmsford – their first defeat this season on home turf.
On the surface a fixture against basement battlers Middlesex might have signified to many a routine victory, yet Surrey were made to wait until the very last ball to secure their home quarter-final. In a low-scoring contest – played out infront of a record domestic Twenty20 crowd believed to be in the region of 28,500 – Surrey required ninth wicket pair Zafar Ansari to squeeze past their target of 138 with zero room for manoeuvre.
With second and third spot wrapped up, Friday night represented a skirmish for fourth spot – with Kent and Somerset hoping potential wins would be merged with defeat for Glamorgan against Gloucestershire.
In truth from the very early exchanges Glamorgan never looked in danger of slipping up at the last hurdle – Gloucestershire doing the chasing pair no favours by folding to just 108 from their allocation.
That was never likely to test Glamorgan who eased to a first quarter-final since 2008 with 48 balls still available.
Both Kent and Somerset had kept their ends of the bargain – the former producing an excellent showing to beat Surrey by 21 runs, whilst Somerset compounded Middlesex’s nightmare campaign with a 22-run success.
Ultimately though both were left to rue what might have been, with this being the first time Somerset has missed the last eight since 2008.
Undoubtedly though the most striking Friday night fixture in the South took place at Chelmsford, where inspired by Luke Wright Sussex chased down a world record 225 – doing so with five balls still to be bowled.
Bizarrely, arguably the reason Sussex were out of the reckoning prior to the final round was in no small part down to their faltering batsmen, with this result likely to promote plenty of what ifs back at Hove. For table toppers Essex this signified their third defeat on the spin – intriguingly of their four defeats all have come having been too asked to bat first.
For the second week in succession the undoubted star was Luke Wright, who after scoring an unbeaten 116 last Friday night this week spearheaded Sussex’s world record chase of 225 with an undefeated 153 off just 66 balls – those two innings combined meaning Wright has now scored 269 runs at a strike rate of 221 since he was last dismissed in Twenty20 cricket.
So frighteningly brilliant was Wright’s remarkable display of force that Tom Westley’s second Twenty20 ton off the summer – in the same fixture – almost slipped under the radar.
Such was the curious nature of Friday night’s cricket that Wright had genuine competition for star turn of the week – none more so than Australian John Hastings who clubbed the most brutal innings of the tournament to date with 80 from a mere 26 balls.
That innings atoned for four earlier overs that bled 50 runs and guided Durham to the most unlikely of closing victories against Northants. Ross Whiteley was another to defy logic, as he marmalised 84 from just 38 deliveries to blast Worcestershire into the knockout rounds.
Friday was a night that experienced a torrential downpour of sixes and that trend was not bucked at Headingley which experienced a deluge of maximums – James Franklin clubbing three of his six balls over the fence in Notts’ successful chase of 200, while Aaron Finch had earlier smashed 89 from just 49 deliveries to provide Yorkshire with what appeared a winning platform.
Nobody however left Headingley with more praise than James Taylor who brilliantly saw his side over the finish line with a busy 35 that came at of strike rate of 250.
Never one to be outdone Darren Stevens also indulged in the run scoring glut – the evergreen 38 year old smashing seven maximums on his way to a match winning 67. Hampshire’s Matt Coles had set the tone for the week’s power hitting theme, the all-rounder equalling the fastest ever half century in domestic English Twenty20 history English courtesy of an 18 ball knock that belittled the 167 run target Essex had set Hampshire.
Amongst the carnage there were still bowlers worthy of a mention – none more so than Will Smith who captured three for 17 prior to Coles’ blitz. That Surrey were taken to the last ball against Middlesex was in no small part down to Ravi Patel who clinched two for 15, although in the same game Surrey can be thankful for Stuart Meaker’s four for 30 as a reason for their success.
Birmingham failed to read the run feast Friday script with their success over Leicestershire built around a tight bowling showing – Recordo Gordon their pick with three for 17.
© Cricket World 2014