By Mark Kidger (@markFromMadrid)
Last night was a make-or-break night for several teams, with the final pieces of the qualifying puzzle supplied in the last round of games, today.
In last night's report I - idly - assumed that the ECB would apply common sense and that the same Tie-breakers would apply in the Blast as in the Royal London One Day Cup. They have not, and they do not!
The relevant extract from the playing conditions is:
The tie-breakers for teams finishing on equal points will be:
188.8.131.52 The team with the higher net run rate in the Group Matches will be placed in the higher
position (see below).
184.108.40.206 If teams cannot be separated by 220.127.116.11 above, this will be done by drawing
So, unlike in the ODC, where a number of wins in group matches is the first tie-breaker, here only Net Run Rate is important. With 1st playing 4th and 2nd playing 3rd in the other group at home in the Quarter Finals, there is a distinct advantage both to obtaining a top-two place and to topping the group. So, even for sides that have already qualified before these games (Durham, Lancashire and Worcestershire from North Group and Somerset and Gloucestershire from South Group), like grid position in Formula 1, the higher you are, the more significant your advantage.
In North Group, Notts Outlaws, Birmingham Bears and Yorkshire Vikings are all after the remaining spot while, in South Group, Kent Spitfires, Glamorgan, Surrey and Sussex are in a blanket finish for two places. According to results, Kent could top South Group, or fail to qualify: it is that close.
An additional factor is a band of heavy rain moving south-east which, at midday, was hammering London, East Anglia and the home counties. With the West country dry and the rain about to reach Kent, Gloucestershire and Sussex were no doubt feeling happier than Yorkshire, Kent and Somerset about the prospects of play.
Just one game in North Group as Northamptonshire host Yorkshire Vikings. Northamptonshire are already guaranteed to finish bottom of the group, while the Vikings need to win this game in hand by a wide margin to keep open their chances of a Quarter-Final place. Of the three teams chasing one place, the Vikings have the worst NRR and, with the Vikings playing the Outlaws in the final game, would be eliminated if rain does not allow a result against the Outlaws unless tonight’s result pushes them ahead on NRR. To complicate things further, the Bears are 1 point ahead and also have a better NRR going into the game. Yorkshire welcome back Liam Plunkett, but Kane Williamson has bone damage to a finger taking a catch against the Outlaws on Friday. David Willey captains the side in the absence of Steve Patterson with a broken finger.
Northamptonshire won the Toss and elected to bat. Despite a slowish start, 68 from 39 balls from Josh Cobb kept the score moving. David Willey took three wickets in 4 balls in the penultimate over to knock back their chances of a big total but, despite this, 162-8 was strongly competitive. Chasing 163 to stay alive in the competition, Yorkshire lost Kohler-Cadmore for a duck to the fourth ball of the innings, but Lyth and Willey then set off in pursuit of the target at a furious pace and then accelerated. Yorkshire, needing the victory and, preferably a big one to improve run-rate, were cruising, with Willey and Lyth utterly dismantling the Northants attack, with Willey eschewing boundaries to score mainly in sixes. When Lyth fell for 66 from 41 balls, the job was all but done with Willey out for 79 from 42 with 7x6 from the next ball. Yorkshire won by seven wickets with 27 balls remaining and keep themselves alive.
Mission accomplished for Yorkshire who go ahead of Notts Outlaws by 0.05 on NRR and thus just need to match their result in the last game to go through.
Two big games and a dead rubber here. Gloucestershire host Sussex and Kent host Somerset, with a lot riding on both games. In the third match, Middlesex and Essex are in a three-way battle with Hampshire to avoid the wooden spoon in South Group. Victory for Gloucestershire would put them level on points with Somerset at the top of the Group, although their NRR is currently inferior and would all but eliminate Sussex, who would have to win their last game and hope for either rain in the Glamorgan v Surrey game or a narrow Surrey win combined with a big Sussex victory against Middlesex on the previous evening. For Kent, a win would seal qualification and open the chance of winning the South Group; defeat though would leave a must-win match on the last evening against Essex.
Unlike the final round of games, which all start at 1930 BST, Somerset had the advantage of starting at 2000 BST, half an hour after their rivals from across the River Avon and knowing how that match has ended before their own game did.
Gloucestershire v Sussex
Sussex may point to their four rained-off games if they fail to qualify, but a hit or miss attack also has a lot to do with it. When the Sussex pace attack comes off, as demonstrated by the two T20 hat-tricks that it has obtained this season, it is well-nigh irresistible; when it is off target, balls race to the boundary so much faster. Sussex went into the game without ace gunslinger, Luke Wright, injured, with Danny Briggs captaining the side. Gloucestershire picked the same squad as for their well-nigh miraculous win against Surrey, expecting to play the same XI, but gave Jacob Lintott a first start for Gloucestershire, having played T20 for Hampshire last season. Sir Robert Hunt described Jacob Lintott as “not looking very athletic, in fact, he makes Noema-Barnett look like Kate Moss”.
At the Brightside Ground at Bristol, Gloucestershire won the Toss and elected to bat. Tymal Mills immediately showed what a threat he is with a brutal fast over, including a delivery that hit Maxy Klinger and a brutal short ball that was neck high. Some tight bowling, particularly from Rashid Khan, who the batsmen were entirely unable to pick and Chris Jordan, made scoring tricky in the middle overs. 85-3 after 12 overs presaged a total around 170 but, despite some quite wild bowling from Tymal Mills, mixed with more brutal deliveries, Gloucestershire were never allowed to get away. With real difficulties to get the ball away, wickets started to fall quickly as the batsmen hit out. Jofra Archer’s last oversaw three wickets fall (a catch in the deep, a clean bowled from a hoik and a run-out) and just six runs scored. Gloucestershire’s final total of 159-9 was bitterly disappointing. With Michael Klinger’s back giving him a lot of trouble, it appeared initially that Chris Dent, who has been playing for the 2nd XI this week, was going to field for him, with Ian Cockbain took over the captaincy. However, after a delay, Klinger, who has been taking strong analgesics to allow him to play recently, joined the side on the field. The first over from David Payne was extraordinary, with three skied balls, two that went close to Lintott without being chances and a huge skier that Andrew Tye just missed over his shoulder, with the ball bouncing off his hands: 13 off the over, but it could so easily have been two wickets. Early omens for Gloucestershire were not good as Salt swung merrily and the bowling and fielding were, at times, shoddy. Salt finally fell after scoring 60 from 30 balls and then Jacob Lintott, captain of Clevedon CC, came in, gave the ball some air and, after two dot balls that were cheered loudly by the crowd and two singles, then took wickets with the last two balls of his over, the second of which utterly bamboozled Deloy Rawlins and clean-bowled him.
However, Finch and Wiese hammered the ball to all parts and Sussex seemed to be cruising, before Benny Howell got both with consecutive balls and, again, hope, however forlorn, returned as the crowd came to life, before the comment “that’s a terrible ball” started to repeat itself persistently. Sussex won eventually by four wickets with six balls to spare and were far from flattered by that margin. Gloucestershire were left to watch nervously events at Canterbury, while Sussex knew that they were still very much alive in the competition.
Sussex move ahead of Glamorgan into fourth in South Group and only have to avoid defeat in their last game to go through: a tie or a rained-off game would suit them nicely as their NRR is massively superior to Glamorgan. Surrey must win and hope that Sussex lose to Middlesex to go through on NRR.
Kent v Somerset
Kent have won 10 of the 14 previous meetings, with one abandoned and 3 Somerset victories so, on paper, the odds were stacked against Somerset. Unusually, Kent picked a 15-man squad, with Marcus Stoinis back after his hamstring injury, although not in the final XI. With the heavy rain clearing more than an hour before the start, the danger of a drastically shortened, or abandoned match was lifted.
Somerset won an on-time Toss after some great work from the groundsmen to make the outfield playable and put Kent in. The decision became debatable when Kent reached 58-0 from just five overs, with Daniel Bell-Drummond and Joe Denley enjoying themselves immensely. However, Denly and the Bell-Drummond fell in quick succession, and the scoring rate slowed considerably, with Max Waller taking two, cheap wickets. Sam Billings and Alex Blake then put together a rapid partnership before exploding and putting Jerome Taylor especially, to the sword. Blake fell for 42 from 22 balls, but Sam Billings kept on swinging, finishing with 57 from 35 balls, with able support from Sean Dickson’s 20 from 9 at the end, leading Kent to 231-5, including six penalty runs. Somerset needed a huge innings from someone but lost Myburgh quickly. Peter Trego scored swiftly, but fell for 30 from 18 and Somerset could see the run rate required rising rapidly. Steven Davies looked to be the main hope, but then fell for 45 from 25 balls, the RRR over 13 when he fell to make it 91-3. However, incredibly, after ten overs, Somerset were actually slightly ahead of Kent’s score at the same stage. Corey Anderson joined James, and 29 came from their first ten balls together, 42 from the first 16. One six went into the flats overlooking the ground; a top edge flew over the boundary.
Eventually, Corey Anderson swung once too often and a swirling edge went high in the air allowing Sam Billings to chase 30 yards and pull off a brilliant catch. 138-4 after 12.5 after a partnership of 47 from 21 balls. With the fall of Anderson, singles came at will, but Somerset needed at least two boundaries each over and could not get them. Hildreth fell finally for 45 and, with it, any remote chance that Somerset had of victory departed with him. However, Lewis Gregory was not going to die wondering and swung for his life, helped by a catch off a no-ball. The equation came to 30 from 8 when Milne bowled a high full toss that Gregory skied and was caught off, before John Lloyds, the TV umpire (and ex-Somerset player) called the delivery a new ball and, Milne had to be removed from the attack, with Tom Abell taking a boundary of the subsequent Free Hit. Grant Stewart came on to finish the over and went for two boundaries and bowled a wide, leaving 18 needed from the last over.
1st ball, Claydon to Gregory: boundary, 14 required.
2nd ball, Claydon to Gregory: a single, 13 needed from 4.
3rd ball, Claydon to Abell: Abell misses… a bye to the ‘keeper, 12 needed from 3.
4th ball, Claydon to Gregory: swung to leg, cut off on the boundary by Heino Kuhn who appeared to touch the rope as he fielded, two runs after a long delay. 10 needed from 2.
5th ball, Claydon to Gregory: Yorker, missed. Cut off just short if the boundary for three byes. Six need to tie.
6th ball, Claydon to Abell: a single on the On side and Somerset lose by five runs.
Somerset’s seven-match unbeaten streak ended and Kent, Somerset and Gloucestershire will dispute the top 3 places in South Group in the last round of matches, with Somerset who have finished their games, having the NRR advantage over Kent in second and Gloucestershire.
Middlesex v Essex
Yet another disappointing T20 campaign comes to an end at Lord’s, with rumours circulating that Dan Vettori may pay the price for two wins in 12 matches to date, six straight defeats and a battle to avoid coming bottom in South Group. Steve Finn and Nathan Sowter return to the squad for the “Machines”, who are captained by Dawid Malan now that he has no international commitments. Essex won the Toss and put Middlesex in.
This proved to be an evening when the stuttering Middlesex batting functioned reasonably well, even if the commentary stream did not. 210-3, built around 77 from 38 balls by Eoin Morgan and 78 from 52 by Paul Stirling powered Middlesex past 200, although the fans had seen Middlesex score 220+ and still lose comfortably this season. Essex though set off with gusto and, although they fell to 33-2 in the fourth over, Varun Chopra and Dan Lawrence kept Essex well up with the run-rate: the Middlesex nightmare of being unable to defend 220+ was repeating itself. Essex cruised to victory, winning by six wickets with four balls remaining. Poor bowling, dropped catches and generally shoddy fielding contributed to the Middlesex nightmare.
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