Sussex's Vitality Blast hopes hit by surprise defeat to Essex
A sensational all-round display from Dan Lawrence led Essex to a 13-run win at Hove as Sussex Sharks were stunned by the last-placed South Group side.
Going into the game Essex had failed to win any of their six T20 Blast games, four being defeats but were able to put an end to their poor form thanks in great part to Lawrence, who struck 81 off just 44 balls to help set a tough target of 198 to win - before taking figures of 2-3 to dent Sussex’ hopes in the second innings.
After captain Luke Wright won the toss and elected to bowl, Sussex started perfectly, with Ollie Robinson dismissing Cameron Delport for one in the second over, after the South African opener edged behind to wicketkeeper Ben Brown.
The visitors didn’t let this early loss affect them as Lawrence and Tom Westley added 67 runs in four overs as Essex finished the powerplay at 69/1.
Lawrence brought up a superb half-century two overs later, coming off 24 balls with 46 of his runs coming in boundaries with the pair then bringing up their 100-run partnership in the 10th over as Sussex struggled to find a breakthrough.
Sussex were finally able to break the partnership in the 12th over when Westley was dismissed by Delray Rawlins, caught on the boundary by Calum MacLeod for 38. This dismissal sparked a recovery from The Sharks as the following over, Tymal Mills got the big wicket of Lawrence for 81, the England Lions batsman chipping a catch to Rawlins before Ryan ten Doeschate was trapped leg-before for one by Rawlins to leave Essex at 136/4.
These quick wickets had got Sussex back in the game after with the Sharks able to drag the run-rate down after an explosive start from the visitors with the five overs since the introduction of Rawlins going for just 31 runs.
This pressure eventually tolled when Paul Walter was bowled by Danny Briggs for nine after the all-rounder attempted to hoick across the line, the wicket coming much to the relief of Brown after the keeper dropped the potentially dangerous batsman on seven.
The Sharks looked like they were going to restrict the visitors to a lesser total after an excellent spell of bowling but a 60-run partnership between Michael Pepper and Simon Harmer saw the Eagles finish strongly to set Sussex a difficult target of 198 to win.
Sussex started the run chase as they have done often in the Blast with Luke Wright teeing off as he added 20 out of the 25 runs made in the first three overs. He and Aaron Thomason, Sussex’s only change from their seven-wicket victory over Kent two days prior, added 29 for the first wicket before Essex got the big wicket of Wright for 20, the Sharks skipper caught by Harmer after he mistimed a shot off Matt Quinn.
Following the dismissal of Wright, Essex began to tie down Sussex during the powerplay overs with The Sharks finishing their first six overs at 44/1, this lack of runs creating pressure which tolled just two overs later when MacLeod was trapped leg-before for nine by Harmer to leave Sussex in a bit of trouble at 60/2 after eight overs.
Thomason and Rawlins got the hosts chase back on track, as the pair added 59 for the third wicket in just five overs, with the latter building on his match-winning 62 not out against Kent the match previous.
An excellent piece of captaincy from Harmer saw Essex get a much-needed breakthrough via Lawrence in what was to be his only over of the game, with the Eagles hero from the first innings first having Rawlins caught by Westley to dismiss the Bermudian for 37 before he had Thomason caught by Quinn for 46 five balls later to turn the game Essex’s way.
This brought two experienced players together in David Wiese and Ravi Bopara with the pair adding a quickfire 24-run partnership, Wiese adding 17 of them as he showed his imperious form.
Another bowling change got the breakthrough Essex needed with Walter dismissing Bopara for seven caught by Jack Plom on the boundary as the former Eagles man continued his poor run of form.
Wiese gave the Sharks some hope with a few lusty blows but this dissipated when he was dismissed for 30 at the start of the 19th over, the South African caught on the boundary by Harmer off the bowling of Sam Cook.
The dismissal of the inform all-rounder sparked a minor collapse as Sussex lost George Garton two balls later for two, caught off a top edge by Westley before Robinson was run out by Harmer for a golden duck two balls later to all but ensure victory for the visitors.
Brown was able to provide a few late boundaries, but it wasn’t to be enough as Sussex lost by 13 runs to hand Essex their first victory of the tournament.
The result gives Sussex their second defeat of the campaign which leaves them second in the South Group with three games to go, their next game away to Surrey at The Oval on Wednesday.
Rawlins said afterwards: “They set us a pretty big score. It was a good wicket but we lost key wickets at the wrong time, just as we were building momentum. We still feel we’re in a good place as a team.
"Aaron Thomason has come in at the top of the order and shown the real depth of the squad with, 40 odd. On another day his shots would have gone to the left or right of the fielders and he would have finished up with 60 or 70, and we win. Everyone’s a bit disappointed, but it was always going to be a tough chase.”