By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
Love it or hate it, you cannot deny that the T20 Blast is pulling in the fans. Most teams are reporting record crowds, and we are now at the sharp end of the season. The last three evenings of games will decide Quarter-Final places, and the Quarter-Final crosses. Most of the games still have something riding on them. The pictures of crowds streaming into the Kia Oval more than an hour before their must-win match against Hampshire are proof of product.
Tonight we have had two games: Surrey v Hants and Bears v Lancs.
The long and short of it before the start is that only Hants have nothing riding on the games. If Surrey win, their fate will be decided on the last two evenings; if Surrey lose, they are out, and the last two qualifying places in South group will be decided between Kent, Glamorgan and Sussex. In North Group, the slim chances of the Bears ride on winning their last two games and hoping that other results fall the right way, while Lancashire are in a tight battle with Durham and Worcestershire for a top-two spot and a home Quarter Final: win and they all but guarantee it; lose and their fate will lie in the hands of Worcestershire.
Surrey brought in Aaron Finch and Tom Curran for Rory Burns and Matthew Pillans to add some firepower, needing to win well and for things to fall their way. That Surrey are in this position, their hopes balancing on a knife-edge is mostly their own making: they were cruising to a facile win against Gloucestershire in their previous game, needing just 12 to win from the last two overs with plenty of wickets in hand and, incredibly, lost by five runs. Hampshire, One Day Cup Champions, have been far less successful in the Blast and are in a tight battle with Essex and the hapless Middlesex for the wooden spoon in South Group.
Hampshire’s innings started well, with James Vince scoring quickly, but began to run out of steam in the second half of the innings, after the fall of the top three. From looking set to set a total of 170+ if you apply the rule of doubling the score after 12 overs, the innings subsided, with the run-rate slowing steadily as it progressed. Just 16 runs were added in the last three overs, 30 for the loss of 4 wickets from the previous five. From a promising high of 107-3, the final total of 133-7 was illustrative of Hampshire’s struggles in the competition, in complete contrast to their One Day Cup success. Tom Alsop struggled along at well under a run-a-ball when Hampshire needed far more, and no one was able to compensate. For Surrey, Morne Morkel was expensive, his first two overs going for 21 as Vince and Roussouw took advantage of the powerplay, but Dernbach and, especially, Batty, were particularly mean, pulling the advantage back and stifling the batsmen, the two combining for 8-0-37-3.
Chasing just 134 to win, with Finch and Roy opening, there was a possibility that Surrey could win with a lot of overs un-bowled, what was not in the script was that, after a confident opening from Finch, Jason Roy was clean bowled by off-spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman for a golden duck to the fifth ball of the opening over, looking to sweep. Just a single came off Chris Wood’s opening over, as Surrey struggled initially in the Power Play overs, giving the Hampshire fans brief hope. Five wides at the end of Mujeeb Ur Rahman’s second over seemed to have opened the flood-gates but, with time, not an issue, Will Jacks backed away from Steyn and offered a slogged catch to Sam Northeast. Incredibly, after four overs, Surrey were actually behind the run-rate and in need of some sensible batting. Aaron Finch though was still there and, in partnership with Nic Maddison, accelerated the scoring. Together they pushed Surrey to the target and, although Maddison fell to Mujeeb Ur Rahman, stumped for 41, to make it 117-3 after 15.3 overs, Aaron Finch powered Surrey over the line with 15 balls to spare, ending 67*. Liam Dawson’s spell of 0-14 from 4 overs and Chris Wood’s 0-16 from 3, kept the scoring under check, but Hampshire needed quick wickets and did not get them.
Surrey now need to beat Glamorgan on Friday and hope that either Gloucestershire or Middlesex beat Sussex to obtain a Quarter Final place. If Sussex lose to Gloucestershire, even though they could still finish on the same points as Surrey by winning their final game, against the hapless Middlesex, they would have one win fewer than Surrey and thus be eliminated.
In the other game, Lancashire’s batting struggled against a Birmingham Bears attack that needed a big win to keep their hopes alive. After Davies and Brown added 22 for the first wicket in the first three overs, it was all downhill. Lancashire limped to 102ao from 19 overs, with Oliver Hannon-Dalby taking 4-20, as only Danny Lamb, at #8, with 24, passed 13. It was a pretty miserable performance from a side looking to top the North Group. The Bears only needed a reasonable start, and they were well on their way to a huge win and a significant boost in NRR. Bell and Pollock supplied an opening partnership of 68 in 9.2 overs and, despite both falling in the space of 8 balls, the match was all but over. Young leggie, Matt Parkinson, took 2-16 from his four overs but lacked any kind of effective support. When the Bears took 13 from Zakhir Khan’s final over, which included three wides, any remote chance of a Lancashire comeback ended, and Sam Hain duly finished the match with a boundary from the first ball of the fifteenth over. The Bears won by seven wickets with 35 balls remaining, to put a significant dent in the Lancashire NRR.
If Worcestershire win their last game, against the Bears, on Friday, they will eliminate their rivals and send Lancashire into an away Quarter Final. However, even if Warwickshire win that game, Yorkshire Vikings, with two games left – against bottom place Northants and against Notts Outlaws – will eliminate them. Similarly, a win for the Outlaws against the Vikings will seal the final qualifying spot for the Outlaws. The North Group is in for a tense finish.
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