By Connor Steel
HAMPSHIRE HAWKS’ losing start to the 2022 Vitality Blast continued on Tuesday night as they were trashed by Essex Eagles at Chelmsford; losing by eight wickets on an overcast but dry evening. Similarly to Monday evening’s home defeat versus Somerset the Hawks ultimately struggled with the bat and lost wickets at crucial times, whilst the hosts’ dangerous batting pair Michael Pepper and Matt Critchley did the damage to reach their modest target with over six overs to spare at the Cloud County Ground.
Essex chose to field first following a ten minute delay due to rain and were made to wait until the fifth over to make the first breakthrough; Aneurin Donald (5) seeing his stumps destroyed by a Sam Cook delivery after some big shots from his partner Ben McDermott. The Big Bash star was in fine form and scored the dominant scorer with six boundaries (5 fours, one six) as Hampshire reached fifty runs in the ninth over, captain James also dismissed for three after being caught off Critchley’s out-swinging delivery.
This left Hampshire on 59-2 at the half-way point making steady progress against the tight Essex bowling and quick fielding; McDermott becoming frustrated and departing for 38 runs after misjudging a shot from captain Simon Harmer into the hands of a fielder. These two wickets meant that Ross Whitely joined Joe Weatherley at the crease, the pair helping to steady the ship during a crucial period in the middle overs.
With these two new batsmen Hampshire began to pick up the run-rate as Weatherley hit 37 runs and Whitely accompanied his partner with twenty-three runs; the former adding six boundaries and the latter scoring two big sixes as they helped the team past the one hundred run landmark with no further loss. But the batsmen were both dismissed as they fell to Aron Nijjar and Harmer respectively, whilst Dawson (11) was Cook’s second victim following two fours to make the score 129-6 with nine balls later. James Fuller then hit two sixes in an unbeaten 24 as the visitors reached 150-6 from their allocated twenty overs of batting.
Although Will Buttleman made a bright start to Essex’s chase of 151 runs, the opener was dismissed in the second over; the batsman seeing his shot caught and bowled by the backtracking Brad Wheal. This brought Pepper together with Matthew Rossington, the latter hitting one six and one four as he was starved of the strike with the former dominating; reaching the fifty mark. But two runs later Nathan Ellis took the wicket of Rossington as he beat the bat and slammed the stumps with a yorker; the batsman heading back to the pavilion for eleven runs off 8 balls and Essex were left on 52-2 in just the sixth over.
Surviving a run-out opportunity on twenty-two and a new batting partner, Pepper continued to dominate the strike as he displayed power in his shot-play featuring a mixture of inventive flicks and conventional technique. He reached his half century with a fine shot that went the distance for six as his side reached the 100 mark in style; adding two sixes off the next over off Liam Dawson and another off Crane who was the closest to break through with a low spinning delivery that missed the bat in the twelfth over.
Although Pepper hit nine fours and four sixes in his unbeaten 75, Essex will also be thanking Critchley down the other end as he quietly reached forty-five runs from 24 delivers; including two huge maximums off the front foot. He also hit the winning runs with a boundary that also ensured an unbroken 100-run partnership between the two batsman; which ultimately saw them home in just 57 minutes of batting time and with thirty-balls left to play in a blistering home innings full of entertaining cricket.
For Hampshire this was their first away defeat at Essex in the competition since 2017 and their third loss of their Vitality Blast campaign in just 4 days as they sit bottom of the South Group on net-run-rate. The Hawks will look to get their first victory when they travel to Surrey on Thursday evening (6:30pm start) at the Ageas Bowl or at home versus Sussex on Saturday as they celebrate the Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend in style.
PICTURED BY ESSEX CRICKET: Pepper strikes ball for six as Hampshire fielder can only watch in awe.