15 July 2023

Hampshire’s bid to retain Blast title ends as Essex battle into final

15 July 2023

Hampshire’s bid to become the first side to retain the Vitality Blast title is over after belligerent cameos from Daniel Sams and Matt Critchley carried Essex into the final.

Joe Weatherley’s busy 63 not out off just 39 balls, plus Ben McDermott’s 29 off 12 and Benny Howell’s 22 off 11 at the front and back end of the innings respectively lifted Hampshire to 170 for seven.

Essex’s target was reduced to 115 off 12 overs after an hour’s rain delay early into their chase but upon slipping to 54 for four, Sams belted 29 off 17 before Critchley starred in the first semi-final.

With 13 needed off the final over, Critchley, the pick of Essex’s bowlers earlier with two for 22, thumped the first delivery of Nathan Ellis’ over for six before Simon Harmer did likewise two balls later to wrap up a five-wicket win under the Duckworth Lewis method for the 2019 champions.

Essex had twice been beaten in the group stage by Hampshire but they can now look forward to an encounter against either Somerset or Surrey later on Saturday – provided the rain stays away.

Essex were initially scrambling after asking their opponents to bat first, with McDermott plundering six boundaries in his first 11 deliveries – including a flat six over long-off.

Hampshire put on 39 in the first 17 deliveries before McDermott slammed the 18th – his 12th – to long leg after being deceived by Sam Cook’s slower ball into the wicket while James Vince failed to get any elevation after backing away to leg in Shane Snater’s next over and slamming to mid-off.

After Snater and Cook put on the brakes, spin twins Critchley and Harmer kept a lid on Hampshire’s scoring, with Weatherley keeping the scoring ticking over. However, Hampshire were unable to build partnerships with Tom Prest lbw to Critchley, who took a loopy catch to dismiss Liam Dawson.

Weatherley cast off the shackles with a huge heave for six in Harmer’s final over en route to a 34-ball fifty and he finally found support from Howell, with the pair putting on 40 in the last 18 balls.

Weatherley then took a fine running catch in the first over of the reply after Adam Rossington had whipped Chris Wood off his hips before the heavens opened, leading to an hour off the field and a recalibration of what Essex – on 19 for one after 2.5 overs when the rain came – needed.

When Michael Pepper holed out and Dan Lawrence nicked off upon the resumption, Hampshire appeared in the driving seat as Essex were left needing 61 from the final 30 deliveries.

Sams turned the ride with two streaky fours off James Fuller then an authoritative straight six before both the Australian all-rounder and Critchley (26no off 14) cleared the rope off John Turner.

Sams carved Ellis to Ross Whiteley on the deep cover boundary while Dawson’s penultimate over yielded just seven, with no boundaries, before the slow left-armer handed over the baton to Ellis.

The Australian had been Hampshire’s hero in last year’s final but his slower ball first up was picked by Critchley, who hammered high over long-off.

A full toss was bunted by Critchley for a single before another off-pace delivery was hammered by Harmer for six, leaving Ellis on his knees, as Essex sealed victory with three balls to spare.

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