The T20 Cup is the financial jewel in the ECB’s crown. It’s the golden goose, the breadwinner. Given its importance in ensuring the counties can afford to pay mediocre overseas players eye-watering sums of money every year, it gets six weeks in mid-summer dedicated solely to its group stage, free from the distractions of that pesky ‘proper cricket’ which can be so time consuming. Normally, this works pretty well; players don’t have to keep switching between formats, it gets the best of the weather and doesn’t have to compete with Test matches for crowds. Problems arise when June sees almost biblical levels of rainfall, there’s an international football tournament on, a British man makes the Wimbledon final and Steve Smith is in town. Thanks to all that, this year’s edition has been the dampest of damp squibs, not helped by the Sky cameras managing to pick, with unerring accuracy, terrible games to attend. So, after that big build up, who wants to hear what happened?
The group with the catchiest name proved the closest on the final afternoon, but after all that it was Somerset who booked themselves a home quarter final by flying in the face of history and finishing first with 13 points. The prospect of Marcus Trescothick and Chris Gayle became a reality of Richard Levi and Nick Compton, which means their success is one of the more surprising of the tournament. The 51allout team welcomes their advancing purely because they provided us with one of the moments of the competition so far, as Jos Buttler dismantled Chaminda Vaas to beat Northamptonshire with a ball to go. That was one of seven defeats for the side from Wantage Road, who were so terrible they don’t really deserve a mention. They also committed the cardinal sin of employing Cameron White. Take care of that wooden spoon, boys.
As for the rest, Gloucestershire pulled off one of the very best chases in T20 history in their final game to seal second spot; their winning score of 23/2 against said Northamptonshire lot must go down as a triumphant victory for Messrs Duckworth and Lewis. Theirwin left Warwickshire and Worcestershire to battle it out for the ‘well we need a couple more teams’ third qualification place in this group. Worcestershire were absolutely slaughtered by Somerset but managed to get through anyway because Warwickshire somehow contrived to let Shaun Marsh score 68 in their match with the ‘Welsh Dragons’. Either that or thanks to some net run rate thing that we don’t really understand, anyway.
Incidentally, if someone could explain the Welsh Dragons thing to us we’d really appreciate it. Crazy. They’ll have Cardiff City playing in red next.
First of all, the powers that be at the ECB seem to be in quite desperate need of some geography lessons. If they’d like some help, we’re available: We’ve got one whole geography degree between us. Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire have apparently all relocated to Northumberland and were entered into the ‘North’ section of the tournament, with varying degrees of success. Last year’s champions were so awful that the poor guy responsible for their official Twitter updates on each game can now sympathise with the PA announcer on the Titanic. His efforts to make conceding 200 every game sound like excellent bowling performances were admirable. Nottinghamshire destroyed them in the opening game – bowling Leicestershire out for 96 in the process – which pretty much summed up each side’s fortunes. The Outlaws lost just once on their way to second place, and would probably have won the group were it not for having four games washed out. They were the beneficiaries of some luck as well, though; Lancashire made an imposing 178/4 at Trent Bridge last week before old D/L got involved again. After they plied the computer with alcohol, 179 to win in 20 overs became 52 to get from 5. They romped home.
Ultimately Nottinghamshire’s only defeat came at the hands of Yorkshire, who themselves lost just once and went on to win the group. By the end they were letting Joe Root open the bowling, such was the ease with which they qualified. All that was left to be decided in the final round of matches was whether Durham could finish as one of the best third-placed teams. In the end they needed to chase down Lancashire’s 133 in about 17 balls. They failed. In fact they didn’t even manage to chase it down at all as the match ended in a tie.
The strongest group of the three probably provided the most talking points; ranging from Sussex’s blistering batting to Surrey’s horrible run after Tom Maynard’s passing a few weeks ago. Sussex were absolutely outstanding, led by Luke Wright (308 runs at 44 with a strike rate of 163. England: we aren’t joking any more) and their phalanx of spinners. They won the group at a canter. Below them Hampshire sneaked second despite seeming to have a truly abysmal bowling attack. They spent most of the tournament telling everyone Shahid Afridi would definitely turn up eventually, before belatedly admitting defeat with about three days to go. They hardly missed him; his replacement was Glenn Maxwell, a man no one had heard of and whose name would be infinitely cooler were it the other way around. To be honest we still can’t tell you exactly how he has proved to be a good signing, but you can’t argue with results. Much.
In truth, any of the other four sides could have finished third with a bit of luck. Middlesex badly missed Eoin Morgan and Steven Finn, while Kent lacked a bit of experience – although they did set the Sky box gushing over Sam Billings every time they were in town. Any other year, this Surrey side would surely have challenged, but they look mentally shot after recent events and consistently turned in batting performances which would’ve made the Australians blush. It fell to Essex to complete the quarter-final line-up, as their plan of trying to lose every game before stumbling over the line proved surprisingly successful and they just edged Durham out by a point. Appropriately, their final game was completely washed out, which meant Durham’s tie was fortunate because we can’t work out whether a no-result was a good thing for Essex or not. Much like Pat Cummins’ hair, run rates are bloody confusing.
Nottinghamshire vs. Hampshire
Somerset vs. Essex
Sussex vs. Gloucestershire
Yorkshire vs. Worcestershire