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   SET Final, Essex v Hampshire
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A full report of the Second XI Trophy Final between Essex and Hampshire at Chelmsford, 1st September 2008
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            By the time I had gained my seat at the County Ground, two Hampshire wickets had fallen, and the two batsmen at the crease were in full defensive mode. Both Latouf and Lamb were having their fair share of problems against the Essex seam attack, and it was Lamb who first succumbed, caught by the Essex captain Tom Westley at mid-on, possibly off a Chris Wright slower ball. James Vince, a 17 year old batsman who had hit an unbeaten century against Essex a couple of days before in the SEC, came in next, to share Latouf’s troubles. The end of the powerplays signalled the introduction of spin, Tim Phillips inducing an edge off Vince’s bat past the keeper in his first over. Grant Flower was introduced at the other end – you can make your own conclusions about a man with 219 one-day internationals under his belt, who had played an integral part in the First XI Trophy final, appearing in this Second XI game. I know he has mostly been a second XI staple for Essex this year, but playing him, Phillips, and Wright, who had all played in Essex’s last Pro40 game, was perhaps a little bit much. The Hants team, however, was a genuine second XI as the first team were involved in a Pro40 match on the day.

            Anyway, back to the game. The spin spinners kept a tight watch, with neither batsman able to get the ball off the square. Latouf was caught behind in the 29th over, the Hants keeper Tom Burrows replacing him. Burrows likes to use the sweep….a lot. Unfortunately, most of the time he missed the ball, or mis-timed it. To demonstrate how slow the scoring had been: Vince’s edge in the 21st over was the last boundary off the bat until he did the same in Flower’s 32nd over. This, however, signalled the end of the period, as Vince took boundaries off both spinners in consecutive overs, causing Westley to perhaps take the knee-jerk option of removing both the experienced spinners. Jahid Ahmed came on and immediately caused a play and miss by Burrows; the captain introduced his own twirlers, and brought more false shots out of Burrows and that wearisome sweep. Next over, and Vince pulled an Ahmed full toss for four, followed with a cut for two. Unfortunately, as the young man was really getting into his stride, he missed a whip through the on-side and was lbw to Ahmed for 58. A very creditable performance under pressure, and an invaluable one when it came to the Hampshire innings. The remaining Hants batsmen struggled to finish the 50 overs with any sort of flourish. Morris was caught off Westley at mid-wicket, Burrows failed to make his ground after trying to run two off an Ahmed mis-field in the penultimate over. It was left to Griffiths and Riazuddin to face the last over of the innings, bowled by Chris Wright – the result after much swiping and missing by Griffiths, just five runs and a total of 220.

            Varun Chopra and John Maunders (curiously the only Essex player without a name and number on his back) were the nominated openers, facing Tom Parsons and David Griffiths. Maunders was bowled by Griffiths in the fourth over, and the Essex captain didn’t last long either, Westley caught behind off Parsons’ medium pace. This brought 18 year old Jaik Mickleburgh to the crease, who had only recently made his first class debut, scoring 60 against Leicestershire. At the other end, Chopra was largely untroubled, and had a full repertoire of off side shots bringing him fours. Largely thanks to him, Essex were 45-2 after 10 overs, ahead of both the required run rate and Hants at the same stage (29-2). However, in the next over Chopra was adjudged lbw to Parsons. He walked off at such a slow pace, as if expecting the umpire to undo the decision so he could resume – personally I thought it might have been leg side, but I didn’t have the best of positions to tell. If only we could have Hawkeye at every match!

            Tim Phillips came to the crease, and so began the most dangerous time for Hants, as neither he or Mickleburgh had much trouble against Parsons, who bowled out his full quota over 10 overs without break at the River End, or against Hamza Riazuddin, the replacement for Griffiths at the Hayes Close End. Riazuddin has the most unusual run-up you could see – whilst most bowlers run normally, pumping their arms as they run to the crease before bringing both arms up when entering the delivery stride, Riazuddin has them up at his face during each pace as he runs in. I can’t imagine it helps when trying to build up speed, and perhaps unexpectedly Burrows was stood up to the stumps, as he was when keeping to Parsons. Riazuddin was accurate and economical, but Hants needed wickets at this point. Danny Briggs, a slow left armer and another 17 year old, was brought on to replace Parsons (who finished with 10 0 40 2), but if anything the run rate increased. Phillips was more than happy to unleash shots over the in-field, whilst Mickleburgh was more reserved, but also untroubled at the other end. Phillips took ten off Briggs’ third over, and at 114-3 it looked an inevitable end to a fairly unthrilling (if that’s a word, spell check says it isn’t) contest was on the cards. The important wicket was that of Phillips, who suffered for trying too much against Briggs’ honest spin by top edging a sweep*, caught at short fine leg. Grant Flower was next in, and hit his second ball from Briggs for four over mid-on. Greg Lamb had been given an over at the other end before Phillips’ wicket, but was pulled for Richard Morris in the next – and the question was soon begged, why Morris hadn’t been turned to earlier. He was markedly faster than any of the other Hampshire seamers, apart from maybe Griffiths, but I’d judge that Burrows was further back for Morris than he was for Griffiths. His third ball, to Grant Flower, was hit back to him, and he took a good diving catch to his right – the danger man was gone, and the change in the match was signalled by the utter silence from the crowd as Flower returned to the pavilion. In Morris’ next over, Mickleburgh took a risky single to the right  of James Vince at mid-wicket, who swivelled and threw with lightning speed to pull off a direct hit at the bowler’s end, and suddenly Essex were six wickets down.

            The game was suddenly alight after pootling along all day, and the pressure was ramped up on both teams. Although if Adam Wheater, the Essex keeper, was feeling it, he wasn’t showing it – in Brigg’s next over, he deposited the spinner for a straight six. A tight over from Morris was concluded by Mervyn Westfield being caught lbw trying to hit into the leg side. This wicket signalled the start of some strange bowling changes, which I’ll try and keep track of. Riazuddin replaced Briggs at the river end, and delivered a typically tight over; but Briggs replaced Riazuddin for some reason two overs later, inducing a poor sweep from Chris Wright, who top-edged to the same position as Phillips had done. Lamb came on for the impressive Morris, a decision I was again questioning, at least until Palladino missed a straight one and was plumb lbw. Essex were nine down, but this time it was Hants to suffer from being the favourites to win this game. Admittedly they were put under pressure from some very quick running by Ahmed and Wheater, along with some cultured shots by the young keeper, but the commendable Hants fielding at this point began to fall apart, with several runs gained by Essex from mis-fields or ricochets off the stumps. 46 runs were required from the last ten overs, which became 30 needed off eight after an expensive over by Morris, including a strong pull for six by Wheater. The tension continued to ratchet up – at the start of the 47th over, just 11 were required for a famous (-ish) victory for Essex. Wheater faced the first ball from Lamb, and courtesy of another Hants mis-field, gained two runs and passed 50 in the process. The second ball resulted in a heart-in-the-mouth moment for the home crowd, as Wheater chipped the ball in the air, just short of a diving Howell at mid-off. The third ball was knocked for a single, bringing Ahmed, who had performed beyond all expectations for a number 11 up to this point, onto strike. Alas, it wasn’t to be for Essex, as Ahmed tried to do too much with a straight one from Lamb, and was bowled. Cue justified celebration from the Hants team. A moment was reserved for the valiant Wheater, as he was given applause from the remaining Chelmsford crowd when leaving the pitch.

            All in all, a most enjoyable day for the neutral (especially when you consider that entry was free). One aspect of the play was exemplarily, at least until the last few overs, and that was the fielding by both sides. No catches were dropped, and there was some very whole-hearted out-fielding, in particular from Benny Howell for Hants, covering large swathes of the Pavilion/River Ends by himself. The batting and bowling was, overall, notably inferior to that seen at the higher level of the county scene, though was probably not helped by a slow pitch and windy conditions. Stand-out performances, for me, came from James Vince and Adam Wheater, both teenage batsmen who demonstrated age beyond their years, and no little skill either.

 
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»SET Final, Essex v Hampshire  
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