Essex 171 for 8 (Lawrence 62, Drakes 2-26) beat Birmingham Bears 167 for 7 (Hain 52, Cook 2-24) by two wickets
Essex became the first team through to 2023 Vitality Blast Finals Day after beating Birmingham Bears by two wickets in a thrilling quarter-final at Edgbaston.
The Bears charged through the group stage with 11 wins out of 14 but bowed out at the quarter-final stage for the third successive year in the face of a commanding display from Simon Harmer’s side.
Essex chose to field and started brilliantly as Daniel Sams delivered a wicket maiden. Rob Yates skied the third ball of the innings to third man and it was not until the eighth that the Bears opened their account with a top-edged two. Five for one from 14 balls was not a start to excite the 10,812 crowd.
Glenn Maxwell pulled the 15th ball for six but Alex Davies fell in the next over, adjudged, after an interminable review, to have gloved a pull at Aaron Beard.
Maxwell added five fours to his six in a punchy 32 but then pulled Walter to deep mid-wicket where Sams took a calm catch and celebrated with a fist-pump to the raucous Hollies Stand. When, 17 balls later, the Aussie accepted another catch to oust Dan Mousley, this time he turned and shushed the Hollies… it had gone rather quiet.
Harmer increased the pressure by conceding just three in his first over and bowling Jake Bethell in his second. Hain posted his 25th T20 half-century, from 33 balls, but then sliced Cook to short third.
With Hain went the Bears’ hopes of a really imposing total and it was left to Benjamin and Drakes to eke 34 from the last 21 balls to heave the total over 150.
The Bears needed to strike early but Adam Rossington clouted 21 from 11 balls to make immediate inroads into the modest target.
Rossington was run out by smart work from Davies but Essex thundered to 77 for 1 from 41 balls before a wobble arrived with two wickets in three balls, Michael Pepper slicing to short third man and Feroze Khushi socking a Jake Lintott full toss to deep midwicket.
Successive sixes by Walter off Maxwell reasserted the visitors’ control and Lawrence continued to work the ball round with consummate skill before his departure set up a tense finish.
With seven needed from two overs, Lawrence lifted the next ball, from Drakes, to mid on. A superb over from the West Indian cost just a single and saw Harmer run out from the last ball, leaving six still to find from the last over, bowled by Olly Hannon-Dalby.
That came down to three from the last two balls, the first of which Snater socked for a straight six to end Essex’s quarter-final hoodoo against the Bears who won both their previous meetings in the last eight.
Having squeezed through the group stage by the skin of their teeth, and now survived a tight quarter-final, Essex will return to Edgbaston for Finals Day on July 15 believing this may well be their year.