Matthew Walker retained his composure in a pressure cooker atmosphere at Chelmsford to steer Essex to their third Twenty20 finals day appearance following a tense eight-wicket quarter final win over Lancashire.
Walker, a cup winner in 2007 when with Kent, hit a competition-best 74 from only 49 balls including the winning runs in a game that kept a sell-out 6,500 crowd riveted until its finish at 11.15pm last night.
The Essex pursuit of the red rose county's excellent total of 183 for 6 started disastrously when star all-rounder Ravinda Bopara went for four in the third over. Opening the face in an effort to run one from veteran seamer Glen Chapple to third man the ball went via a thick edge to the keeper to silence the partisan home fans. The chase was further interrupted when Lancashire batsman Stephen Moore dislocated his right shoulder when making a sliding, boundary stop to be ferried off the field on a golf buggy then to hospital inside an ambulance.
The former Essex captain Mark Pettini and his second-wicket partner Walker made light of the tension and the distractions to post a 32-ball and 39-ball half-centuries respectively in a heroic stand of 147 off 92 balls. With 60 required off the last 30 balls of the game Walker clattered his fourth six of the night out of the ground, but Pettini, who stood down as captain on 11 June just three matches into the T20 campaign, fell soon after for a season's best 81 after when making room to cut Sajid Mahmood.
It was left to Walker to clip the winning runs through mid-wicket with five balls remaining. Not surprisingly he had no energy left to run from the field to collect his joint man-of-the-match award with Pettini.
Batting first under floodlights that did their utmost to mask leaden skies, Lancashire's innings got off to a gloomy start when Moore went leg before pushing hesitantly from the crease to a David Masters off- cutter.
Masters's skiddy brand of right-armed seam caused perpetual Lancashire headaches, yet loan-signing Andrew Carter leaked 11 runs in a nervy first over of variable length then his replacement, Maurice Chambers, faired even worse, conceding 14.
Steven Croft fell soon after a 30-minute break for rain clipping off his legs straight into the hands at deep square leg to leave Lancashire struggling on 42 for 2 after their six powerplay overs. Ungainly left-hander Tom Smith rode his luck to contribute 32, Paul Horton chipped, harried and improvised to up the tempo once Essex turned to spin at both ends. The third-wicket pair added 51 in 33 balls before Smith's good fortune finally eluded him forcing Lancashire to promote wiry pace bowler Sajid Mahmood to use his long levers at No5.
A brace of lusty sixes soon had Lancashire's players roaring with approval from the dugout but Horton fell for 44 when working across the line against Chris Wright then, three balls later, Mahmood lost off stump to Wright's yorker for a competition-best 34 from 17 balls.
Chapple's flurry of 28 from 14 balls left Essex facing the daunting asking rate of 9.2 an over, but it proved within their compass.
T20 semi-finals draw
Friends Provident T20 semi-finals draw:
Nottinghamshire v Somerset
Hampshire v Essex
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