The penultimate round of NatWest T20 Blast fixtures represented very much a case of the last chance saloon for a number of counties with a host of do-or-die fixtures taking place across the country.
With only Lancashire certain of extending their Twenty20 voyage, there was plenty to battle for in the North - with six counties eyeing up the three remaining quarter-final tickets.
Victory last week over Derbyshire ensured Northamptonshire clung on to the trophy they won a year ago, however to maintain that grip they would need to beat Worcestershire on Friday night - who after six successive wins were suddenly seeing their qualification hopes teeter following consecutive defeats.
The alarm bells were however silenced somewhat with Worcestershire securing a relatively comprehensive 31-run victory - in the process forcing the home side to completely relinquish their grip of trophy. It was a rather meagre last stand from Northants, with the Rapids’ 162 never coming under serious threat. Kyle Coetzer’s dismissal at 75 for two causing the Steelbacks to crumble to an eventual 131 for nine.
Another side dicing with the exit door were Birmingham, who visited Yorkshire knowing anything other than victory would signify the final nail in their Twenty20 coffin and the hosts themselves were far from secure of a last eight spot in spite of consecutive wins last week.
Having restricted Yorkshire to 147 - thanks in no small part to Jeetan Patel’s heroics - Birmingham looked to be heading out having slipped to 40 for four, yet Laurie Evans ably supported by Rikki Clarke and Ateeq Javid ensured they lived to fight another day with two balls to spare.
Durham also clung to faint qualification hopes prior to their trip to Leicestershire, nonetheless the other results they were dependant on became a mere irrelevance with Paul Collingwood’s side falling to a final-over three-wicket defeat. In a low scoring game Durham looked like getting out of jail in spite of an under-par 117 with Leicestershire slipping to 90 for seven, however an unbroken partnership between Matt Boyce and Jigar Naik saw the Foxes to a consolation success with just two balls remaining.
Leicestershire's joy was unfortunately short lived, with the Foxes Nottinghamshire’s victims as they all but secured their last eight spot on Sunday afternoon. On what was in truth a poor Twenty20 surface - highlighted by Nottinghamshire’s 121 representing a decent total - Leicestershire folded to just 90 - a result which means only an implausible set of circumstances can deny Chris Read’s side a last eight slot.
In the only other game in the division already qualified Lancashire racked up a monumental 225 as they beat Derbyshire by 35 runs.
The equation in the South was even more complicated, with seven teams vying for three quarter-final births - Essex having already qualified and Middlesex long gone followed a campaign of nightmare proportions.
Two of those sides vying for qualification - Surrey and Somerset - met at the Oval on Wednesday night, Surrey coming off the back of successive defeats and Somerset consecutive victories. The formbook however counted for little with Surrey prevailing on a relatively slow surface - surviving a mini collapse to reach Somerset’s 136 with five balls remaining.
That victory took Surrey to the brink of the next round - progress they would seal on Friday afternoon at Cheltenham. Gloucestershire still harboured qualification hopes - although they needed an entire raft of permutations to run their way - and having reduced Surrey to 119 for eight mission impossible was very much on.
Pivotally though, Jade Dernbach and Robin Peterson combined to propel Surrey to a par 157 for eight, a total that was more than enough for Surrey’s miserly bowlers - although some late fireworks from Benny Howell and Jack Taylor threatened to snatch victory from a seemingly inevitable defeat.
Glamorgan might have joined Surrey in the last eight, yet the Welsh county spurned not one but two chances to book a first quarter-final since 2008. Firstly a collapse from 59 for no wicket after just 6.3 overs to 151 for eight from their allotted 20, saw Glamorgan fall to defeat at Hove by six wickets and nine balls to spare - the first of three potential wins Sussex required to progress.
Essex were next to deny Jim Allenby’s side progression, with Glamorgan’s 157 no target for a side who have a 100 per cent record chasing in Twenty20 cricket in 2014 - so it proved with the table toppers easing to a sensational 10th win in 11 T20 Blast games.
The next stumbling block facing Sussex following that Glamorgan success was a Hampshire side who have hit the ropes in all forms of cricket - so much so that a once seemingly inevitable Twenty20 quarter-final was now appearing in serious doubt.
Sussex though have largely struggled throughout this campaign - particularly with the bat - and those frailties came to the force once more with the Sharks imploding in pursuit of 177. Having looked to be cruising at 69 for no wicket inside the sixth over they suddenly found themselves 122 for seven. Luke Wright’s heroics came close to masking that capitulation but Hampshire snuck home by six runs - with it extending their Twenty20 adventure.
In spite of their setback against Surrey, Glamorgan’s twin defeats meant Somerset had the chance to put their destiny in their hands - provided they could beat Kent at Canterbury. The hosts themselves carried faint qualification hopes and posting a formidable 195 saw those aspirations enhanced further.
That was to prove a total beyond Somerset - the absence of Craig Keiswetter clearly a contributing factor - as rain arrived with Marcus Trescothick’s side floundering on 59 for five. That Duckworth/Lewis win means Kent join Somerset on 11 points, with both sides now reliant on Glamorgan falling to defeat by a significant margin in their final fixture against Gloucestershire.
In the final South division game Gloucestershire proved Essex were human after all, concluding the Cheltenham festival by superbly chasing down 186 with three balls left - generating plenty of thought in relation to what might have been.
The undoubted star turn of the round was delivered by Luke Wright, who came within a whisker of miraculously keeping Sussex in the qualification mix. Having guided his side past Glamorgan courtesy of 66 off just 39 balls, Wright then clubbed an unbeaten 116 off 66 deliveries against Hampshire - surviving a terminal batting collapse that saw Wright and Sussex fall agonisingly six runs short of a victory that would have kept their dreams alive.
In that same fixture Michael Carberry had earlier returned to form in dramatic style with 87 off 63 deliveries - considering Hampshire’s barren run that showing couldn’t have been timelier.
Making a case for overall player of the tournament is Jeetan Patel - his hat-trick a hugely significant factor in limited Yorkshire to 147. If Patel was Birmingham’s hero with the ball, then they have Laurie Evans to thank for seeing them over the line with the bat - the right-hander’s 69 guiding Birmingham from a precarious position to what could become a pivotal victory in their qualification bid.
That Colin Munro (49) laid the batting foundations for Worcestershire’s critical win over Northants with a swift 49 will come as no shock, however that Daryl Mitchell took centre stage with the ball will generate a degree more raised eyebrows - the part-timer capturing career-best figures of five for 28 to land the final nail to the defending champions coffin.
Kent’s success over Somerset was based around a host of superb individual showings, firstly Robert Key and Sam Northeast powered the Canterbury outfit to 195, before the evergreen Darren Stevens captured superb figures of four for 17.
Matt Boyce and Chris Dent could both be satisfied with their week’s work, although their roles in successful chases were equally pivotal, they were also significantly differing - the former’s calm 46 off 42 just the tonic on a testing pitch, whilst Dent’s exhilarating 55 from only 26 ensured Gloucestershire left Cheltenham with victory at the final attempt.
© Cricket World 2014