- Essex v Surrey, FLt20 South Group, Chelmsford
Essex stumble towards last-eight lifeline
Essex are staving off an annus horribilis. Bowled out for 20 against Lancashire in the County Championship (the guffawing will continue for some time) in May they were booed off on their home ground after subsiding for only 74 against Middlesex in the Friends Life t20 last month.
Here their supporters were reduced to sarcastic laughter as they limped into three figures. But their qualification courtesy of Middlesex's defeat at Hampshire presents them a generous lifeline to rescue their season, though a transformed batting effort will be needed away to Nottinghamshire - the first time the sides will meet in T20.
Their effort here in pursuit of 166 to secure a home quarter-final was miserable. A host of mistimed drives and pulls presented easy catches to fielders in the ring and only the free-swinging Ryan ten Doeschate made double figures. He avoided another humiliation by edging Essex above their lowest T20 total. They missed Owais Shah, their highest run-scorer in the competition, with a torn hamstring that will rule him out of the quarter-final.
A pitch that offered a little seam movement was made to order for Surrey's bowling attack and they successfully defended a total for the sixth time in the competition. They again smartly executed their game plan having won the toss and snapped a miserable record at Chelmsford to secure a home quarter-final.
Their batting hasn't fired - this was only their third total above 160 - but they know how to defend a score and made up for their struggles at Chelmsford with a maiden T20 victory by a margin that suggests Surrey are again a force in the shortest format.
For the first four seasons of T20 Surrey qualified for the knockout stage but the last time they got out of their group was 2006, despite a giant budget for overseas signings. Another marquee name this season, Ricky Ponting, produced only one innings of note - despite fine first-class form - but Azhar Mahmood, a more astute acquisition, has earned his fee.
Mahmood is the archetypical canny operator and here removed first Greg Smith and then Mark Pettini in his opening two overs. Jon Lewis, very much in the Mahmood mould, enjoyed the conditions too. Zander de Bruyn also proved effective and Gareth Batty fancied his seamers so much he gave Jason Roy a first spell of the competition. Batty said he had been bowling well in the nets and he duly removed Tim Phillips.
But there were plenty of poor strokes. Hamish Rutherford was on his third life - dropped by Steven Davies and a stinker of a drop by Batty at mid-on - before he top-edged a pull, Pettini did likewise and James Foster summed up the display by meekly edging behind trying a run a back-of-a-length ball to third man.
The most criminal strokes were played by the lower order, Phillips, David Masters and Shaun Tait - in a pair of luminous yellow boots - all surrendering unnecessarily when they should have been playing for ten Doeschate who has single-handedly won games before and nearly did so here. Anything off a length was blasted to the boundary and it took a masterly slower ball from Jade Dernbach to remove him and end the game.
Dernbach had earlier produced a quick nip-backer to bowl Ravi Bopara and he emulated movement off the pitch generated by Graham Napier in a fine spell of 4 for 18 that included a double-wicket maiden.
Napier's wickets top-and-tailed a Surrey innings that sold itself short. They have struggled with the bat in the competition. The cause has been a lack of significant innings: Steven Davies made only the fifth T20 half-century for Surrey this season. Their failure to get an established batsman into the latter half of the innings has curtailed their efforts and it showed here as they subsided with only 26 runs in the final four overs.
Davies produced Surrey's highest individual score in T20s this year with an unbeaten 95 against Kent in the third group match. He looked set for something similar after some clean hitting took him past fifty in 26 balls with three sixes - the best of which cleared long-on off Masters. When he fell, Surrey were rattling along at nine an over but de Bruyn and Gary Wilson were the only other players to make double figures.
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo