Vitality Blast 2023: Road To Edgbaston


A frequently-used cliché about Twenty20 cricket is that it is, probably more than any other form of the game, ‘all on the day’.

Matches are far more likely to be decided not by the relative strength of each team, form, or home advantage, but simply by whichever side gets the rub of the green during the three hours of frantic, fiery gameplay.

Whether you believe the cliché or not, it certainly has some supporting evidence in that, despite 13 counties having won England’s domestic T20 title at least once, not one of them has ever successfully defended it.

With the idea of ‘all on the day’ fresh in everyone’s minds as Essex head to Edgbaston for Finals Day, this is a chance to rewatch six memorable matches in a thus-far successful Blast campaign for the Eagles.

Opening Night Win

30 May: Essex (196-7) beat Gloucestershire (195-7) by three wickets

Essex Eagles vs Gloucestershire, Vitality Blast T20, Cricket, The Cloud County Ground, Chelmsford, Essex, United Kingdom - 30 May 2023

Essex kicked off the 2023 Vitality Blast four days later than everyone else, but there were no signs of rustiness on the opening night against Gloucestershire, however, as the Eagles chased down victory with five balls to spare.

Despite losing the toss, the visitors managed to post an imposing total, driven by Ben Charlesworth’s 20-ball 52 and some late blows from Marchant de Lange, who struck 17 off seven.

In response, Essex made a flying start that had many in the crowd wondering if even Gloucestershire’s total might have been somewhat light, with Feroze Khushi’s 34 from 14 seeing them to 54/1 in just four overs.

When he departed, Robin Das took up the mantle and the Eagles continued their charge to stand ahead of what was required at 116/3 after ten overs.

Das ended up firing 69 from just 33, setting up Tom Westley to hit the winning four off Oli Price and get the Blast campaign off to an ideal start.

Harmer’s hat-trick sinks Sharks

1 June: Sussex (138 all out) lost to Essex (163-7) by 25 runs

Essex Eagles vs Sussex Sharks, Vitality Blast T20, Cricket, The Cloud County Ground, Chelmsford, Essex, United Kingdom - 06 Jun 2023

Following that win, a trip to Hove to take on Sussex just two days later was a thoroughly enjoyable evening by the seaside for Essex as captain Simon Harmer snared a hat-trick on the way to a convincing victory.

The hosts won the toss but saw their decision to field first backfire somewhat, as Feroze Khushi followed up his first-game pyrotechnics by hitting a 38-ball 55, pushing Essex into three figures by the end of the 12th over.

Robin Das then similarly followed suit by taking on the role of lynchpin for the innings’ closing stages, ending unbeaten on 31 and sharing an unbroken eighth-wicket stand of 35 with the skipper, who also contributed 21.

However, Harmer’s best was yet to come, as he single-handedly vindicated his own decision to bring himself on for the third over by removing Tom Alsop, Shadab Khan, and Michael Burgess with his first three balls.

That left Sussex 15-4, and it was a position from which they never recovered, as despite a battling 35 from James Coles, Matt Critchley followed up Harmer’s heroics with three scalps of his own to close out another win.

Essex take Battle of the Bridge spoils

7 June: Kent (150-8) lost to Essex (155-6) by four wickets

Essex Eagles vs Kent Spitfires, Vitality Blast T20, Cricket, The Cloud County Ground, Chelmsford, Essex, United Kingdom - 22 Jun 2023

The Dartford Crossing – or the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge to give it its proper name – might only be half a mile long, but as it carries traffic from Essex to Kent, it gives its name to the Eagles’ fiercest rivalry trip of the season.

The first Battle of the Bridge of the 2023 Blast campaign took place at Canterbury a week into the competition, and this time, it was Sam Cook’s turn to strike three times in three balls as the visitors earned the bragging rights.

Having opted to take first use of what looked to be a good surface, Kent found themselves regretting their decision in the fifth over, as Cook saw off Tawanda Muyeye, Sam Billings, and Jordan Cox to reduce them to 35/4.

Again, Essex had bowled themselves into the ascendancy early on, and again, they never relinquished control, as in spite of Joe Denly’s 39 and some late blows in Grant Stewart’s 37 off 16, Kent posted a below-par total.

Having bowled well in Hove, it was then Matt Critchley’s batting display that secured the points for the Eagles, as alongside Paul Walter’s 15-ball 27, the all-rounder struck 63 from 46 to seal victory with ten balls to spare.

Rain unable to dampen Eagles’ own Great Fire of London

18 June: Middlesex (116-2) lost to Essex (237-6) by 22 runs (DLS)

Essex Eagles vs Middlesex, Vitality Blast T20, Cricket, The Cloud County Ground, Chelmsford, Essex, United Kingdom - 30 Jun 2023

Only one man – Albert Trott in 1899 – has ever hit a ball over the Lord’s pavilion, but such was the rate of Dan Sams’ six-hitting in this clash, some MCC members may surely have thought he might become the second.

As it was, the Australian didn’t quite manage to match Trott, but he did still strike eight maximums on his own, contributing to Essex’s team total of 17, as the Eagles produced scarcely-believable levels of pyrotechnics.

Sams’ fiery knock of 67 came off just 24 balls, giving it the highest strike-rate of any individual innings in the Blast this year, and complemented Michael Pepper’s 34-ball 64 and Dan Lawrence’s 53 off 30.

Essex’s eventual total thoroughly belied the fact that Middlesex had won the toss and opted to bowl first, though maybe it was the gathering dark clouds that had encouraged that decision.

The said clouds did open during the hosts’ chase, but thanks to Sams taking the important scalp of Stephen Eskinazi, they were 22 behind the DLS par score and victory was sealed at the point of the game being called off.

Essex dramatically seal quarter-final spot

2 July: Surrey (195-6) lost to Essex (199-7) by three wickets

Surrey vs Essex Eagles, Vitality Blast T20, Cricket, The Kia Oval, Kennington, London, United Kingdom - 02 Jul 2023

Returning to the capital just two weeks later, the Eagles required a victory at the Oval, home of already-qualified Surrey, to secure progress to the knockout stages of the Blast.

While the scorecard shows Essex got the points that were needed, it in fact only tells a fraction of the story, with the game turning out to be a thriller that saw Chris Jordan drop Feroze Khushi for six on the very last ball.

With the Eagles having opted to chase, Surrey set them 196 for victory as Sunil Narine top-scored with 78 and Jason Roy, Will Jacks, and Jamie Overton all contributed too.
Dan Lawrence and Michael Pepper put on 140 for the second wicket, and even though the Eagles were somewhat reeled in to set up a thriller, no one could have predicted what would unfold with three needed off the final ball.

Khushi lofted Sean Abbott towards Jordan at wide long-on, and although the England man took a catch, he was unable to stop his run, and in his attempt to throw it back for Overton, could only palm it over the rope.

The most vital two points were in the bag, and with Kent then losing to Somerset in the day’s evening clash, the Eagles’ progress to the last eight, having gone right down to the wire, was secured.

Eagles go on a bear hunt in the last eight

6 July: Birmingham (167-7) lost to Essex (171-8) by two wickets

Birmingham Bears v Essex Eagles: Vitality Blast T20 Quarter-Final

Having made it through the group stage in the most heart-stopping fashion, Essex were rewarded with a trip to none other than Edgbaston for a quarter-final clash with Birmingham Bears.

With both sides safe in the knowledge that whichever one of them won, all their remaining matches in this year’s Blast would be played in the Second City, the Eagles won the toss and opted to bowl first.

At halfway, that decision seemed as though it had paid off somewhat, as despite Sam Hain’s half-century and some late hitting from Dominic Drakes, Sam Cook’s two wickets ensured the Bears’ total felt underwhelming.

Lawrence then continued his form from the group stage to underpin the chase, hitting 62 from 49 as an opener, and aided by Paul Walter’s 15-ball 27, the Eagles were in a commanding position at 124/4 after 13.

That saw the required runs sit at 44 from 42 until a flurry of wickets jangled nerves, but Lawrence remained the guiding light to keep Essex on track into the closing stages.

With two balls remaining, Shane Snater then slammed the winning runs with a straight maximum off Oliver Hannon-Dalby to edge the visitors over the line and confirm their place back at Edgbaston for the showpiece.

Alongside seven matches at The Cloud County Ground and that dress rehearsal of a quarter-final, the Eagles’ campaign has taken in Hove, Taunton, Canterbury, Cardiff, Southampton, and two trips to London.

When the squad step off the coach at Finals Day, the miles racked up on the road to Edgbaston will number just short of 2,000 – comfortably more than a journey from Land’s End to John o’Groats and back.

Now, Essex have just two matches on Saturday standing between them and the opportunity to become only the sixth side to win the Vitality Blast multiple times.

Full coverage of all three matches on Finals Day will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Cricket from 10:30am, with updates also available on the Essex Cricket Twitter and Facebook pages.