As the NatWest T20 Blast enters its final group stage furlongs, it is very much make or break for a number of sides hoping to reach the quarter-finals. Matt Carter rounds up week nine.
In both divisions the qualification equation remains a complicated one, although this week did see the first two sides book an extension to their campaign - Lancashire securing qualification from the North and Essex romping to a last eight spot in the South.
Lancashire’s progress was sealed at Grace Road courtesy of an 18-run victory as the the Red Rose applying the squeeze to successfully defend 151. That defeat signifies the final nail in Leicestershire’s campaign and the home side will rue their inability to get over the line having looked well placed at 71 for two off nine overs. Their over-reliance on Josh Cobb was once again exposed with nine of their batsmen failing to exceed double figures.
On the coat-tails of Lancashire are their fierce rivals Yorkshire, with Andrew Gale’s side this week registering consecutive victories over Durham and Derbyshire respectively. Friday night’s success over Durham will have been particularly welcome, given that Yorkshire had only a fortnight earlier been dismissed for 95 by the same opposition in pursuit of just 123.
Both of Yorkshire’s victories followed a similar script with the White Rose on each occasion posting formidable totals in excess of 180 before their bowlers completed the job - both Durham and Derbyshire being bowled out short of their specific targets by some distance.
For Durham in particular defeat represented a substantial body blow to their qualification hopes, with the Chester-le-Street county likely to need wins in each of their three remaining fixtures - a tall order considering they are yet to string successive victories together.
Northamptonshire continue to cling to the trophy they won in 2013, with a thrilling success over Derbyshire on Friday night ensuring the defending champions remain on the outskirts of the qualification landscape.
In a topsy-turvy chase of 191 it had appeared Derbyshire were on the verge of dealing the fatal blow to Northants’ defence, as the home side slipped to 178 for six with just eight balls remaining. That sixth wicket however only ensued to bring Graeme White to the crease - the all-rounder pounding successive sixes to guarantee Northants lived to fight another day.
Northants will hope to prey on the faltering form of Worcestershire, who after six consecutive victories have now tasted defeat twice on the bounce - their latest loss coming at the hands of Birmingham on Friday night. Worcestershire might have been confident of cementing their last eight spot having set their neighbours 176 for victory - considering only in once this campaign had Birmingham surpassed that score - however they were consigned to defeat with four balls remaining.
That triumph was a welcome tonic for Birmingham accounting that on Tuesday defeat to Nottinghamshire had left their qualification hopes in a precarious state. Those aspirations remain on a knife edge however wins in their final two games will see Birmingham extend their T20 journey.
In contrast victory for Nottinghamshire - their third on the spin - means Chris Read’s side tighten their stranglehold on a top four position.
In the South the Essex T20 juggernaut showed little sign of let-up with victory over Kent signalling a remarkable ninth win in 10 for James Foster’s side. Considering Essex’s proficiency in chasing totals, Kent’s decision to field first was an understandable one. The Chelmsford county however proved they are more than apt at target setting, with Tom Westley’s century laying the platform for a mammoth 209 - a total which Kent never threatened to hunt down.
In a week of critical fixtures in the South division, Kent had only a night earlier kept their campaign alive by the skin of their teeth courtesy of a hugely tense victory over Sussex - a result which leaves the Hove county’s hopes in the dirt.
Having seen Kent slip to 77 for six, a much-needed win was looking was looking feasible for Sussex but Kent were able to clamber to 149 thanks in no small part to Alex Blake’s superb half-century.
On a slow surface that total proved too much for a faltering Sussex side who have only once this season chased down in excess of 150 - although some late lusty blows from Will Beer and Chris Jordan gave Kent a significant scare. Unfortunately Kent’s resounding loss a day later meant their euphoria was short lived - with them and Sussex now requiring minor miracles to progress.
The clash between Kent and Sussex wasn’t the only make or break fixture on Friday, with the local derby between Somerset and Gloucestershire carrying substantial weight in regards to both sides chances of sealing a top four slot.
Having completed equally pivotal wins over Kent and Sussex within the last fortnight, Gloucestershire looked well placed for a third straight win - at the completion of the ninth over the visitors had reached 90 for one in pursuit of 175. The wicket of Alex Gidman in the 12th over however triggered Gloucestershire to stutter and they eventually fell short by seven runs.
Having endured a largely exasperating campaign Somerset can now boast consecutive wins for the first time - as a result they are now firmly one of four sides in contention for the three remaining qualification spots.
Another side to record timely wins on the bounce were Glamorgan, with the Welsh county inflicting high-flying Surrey’s second successive defeated. In spite of setting their opponents an imposing 192, Glamorgan were indebted to Michael Hogan - the Australian’s two death offers costing a measly 13 which ensured Surrey fell four runs short.
With that win Glamorgan - who after Essex have lost the least amount of games in the division - rise to third spot and reinforce their grip on a first qualification since 2008.
The final game in the South took place between Hampshire and Middlesex, the latter turning the table on its head to record a comprehensive 50-run victory - incidentally only the second win of a torturous campaign for Dan Christian’s side.
For Hampshire - tipped by so many to go deep in the competition - that represented a second straight defeat and having looked sure bets to progress they now have reason to be wearily looking over their shoulder.
Jonny Bairstow and Tom Westley undoubtedly produced the two standout showings of the week as both hit maiden Twenty20 centuries - Westley’s knock taking only a mere 55 balls whilst Bairstow was only fractionally behind with his century coming from 57.
Amidst Bairstow’s carnage it is worth mentioning John Hastings, who in the same innings captured impressive figures of the three for 20 - a return which was then followed up a similarly lone stand with the bat as the Australian clubbed 62 off just 32.
While Westley laid the batting foundations for Essex’s dominance of Kent, Jesse Ryder produced a similarly eye-catching bowling showing - the Kiwi claiming career-best figures of five for 27. Similarly Richard Pyrah ensured Bairstow’s efforts didn’t go unrewarded - the seamer enjoying an excellent week with figures of three for 19 against Durham being followed by two for 12 against Derbyshire.
Michael Hogan’s two for 28 hardly appears worthy of special acclaim but as mentioned earlier his heroics were arguably the prominent factor in Glamorgan ousting Surrey - although Jacques Rudolph’s 75 off 56 deliveries was an important stepping stone.
Jeetan Patel once more proved a persistent thorn to batting line-ups, as the wily Birmingham man captured returns of three for 16 and two for 17 - taking him to both the wicket-taking and economy rate apex. .
As ever there were a plethora of critical half-centuries; Richard Levi - who smashed 69 off 37 to pave Northants chase over 191 against Derbyshire - and Varun Chopra - whose 74 engineered Warwickshire to victory over Worcestershire - being among the most noteworthy.
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