By Connor Steel
HAMPSHIRE HAWKS suffered semi-final heartbreak in the Vitality Blast as they were consigned to a tough loss versus Essex Eagles; eventually falling by a five wicket margin on Duckworth Lewis System (DLS) and concluding their “reign” as competition champions following the heavily rain-affected encounter in front of a huge Edgbaston “finals day” crowd.
It was Essex who chose to bowl first and they made an inconsistent start as Hampshire scored 39 runs from seventeen balls; Ben McDermott and James Vince both hitting a mix of boundaries during the powerplay. The fun was soon ended when Vince (13) was caught off Shane Snater before another wicket fell; the Australian falling for 29 with a mishit effort.
This left Hampshire on 43-2 as Tom Prest and Joe Weatherley surviving the power-play spell before Essex got the third wicket; the former pinned LBW following an official review and departing for just ten runs. Things then worsened for the holders when Liam Dawson was a fourth victim for the Hawks as he failed to control a leg spin ball from Simon Harmer.
James Fuller joined Weatherley at the crease and the batting pair moved Hampshire beyond the hundred run mark; the middle overs seeing a combination of solid bowling and fielding from Essex to restrict scoring. One highlight was a neat cover drive by Fuller (15) that went through the gap but he then departed hooking a similar effort off Matthew Crinchley.
Ross Whiteley scored just two runs before being caught as Hampshire were struggling at 130-6; Benny Howell the next batter to link with Weatherley. And the pair scored forty runs against the death bowlers with Weatherley moving to sixty-three unbeaten; Howell (22) offering late fireworks with a maximum before Daniel Sams dismissed him in the final over.
Essex struggled initially in their target of 171 as they lost Adam Rossington within three balls; the opener caught out as he played a shot to give Chris Wood his wicket. Their two batmen soon laboured to 19-1 before drizzly showers arrived in Birmingham and signalled a frustrating delay of one hour; thus reducing the Eagles target to 115 in just twelve overs.
Michael Pepper and Dan Laurence restarted as they scored another 27 runs from three overs to move towards the fifty mark; but they were both out within three deliveries. Fuller did the damage as he first removed Pepper (17) dragging in the air to third man and then had Laurence (21) edging a poor shot behind two balls later to leave Essex stuck on 48-3.
A fourth wicket for Essex fell in the 7th over as Paul Walter (1) was trapped LBW by John Turner; the young star almost getting the dismissal of Sams when he played and missed his inswinging delivery. Instead the Australian joined up with Critchley as he hit three huge maximums and two fine boundaries in a partnership of forty five as Essex moved to 95-4.
There was a potential final twist when Sams (29) was caught in the ninth over; leaving Essex needing twenty runs from their final twelve deliveries. A solid eleventh over cut this down to thirteen before Critchley hit a hooked six with just five balls left to bowl; Harmer blasting another maximum to the left side off Nathan Ellis to confirm a brilliant Essex success.
Essex will now contest the Vitality Blast final versus Somerset late this evening (July 15), both sides looking to win their second title since this competition began in 2003. Hampshire’s attentions will however turn back to ‘red ball’ cricket with a long away trip to Nottinghamshire starting at Trent Bridge on Wednesday (July 19) with “better weather” due to begin.
PICTURED BY ALAMY (2RCJRAG): Liam Dawson slogs a fine boundary, but it sadly ended in defeat for Hampshire at Edgbaston as the 2022 champions sadly lost by five wickets to leave the Twenty-20 competition at the semi-final stage.