Essex 197 for 5 (Lawrence 81) beat Sussex 185 for 8 (Thomason 47) by 12 runs
Dan Lawrence‘s best outing of the summer inspired Essex to a tight 12-run victory at Hove, giving them their first T20 win of the season to take them off the foot of the South Group table.
Lawrence’s flamboyant 44-ball 81 included six fours and as many sixes as he led the Essex charge on a good batting pitch, before he took two crucial wickets in his only over just as Sussex had started to find a foothold in their run-chase.
Defeat sees Sussex squeezed out of top spot by Kent, and they now face a battle to qualify with a resurgent Surrey finding form as the group stage enters its final week. Essex’s first win keeps their title defence alive mathematically, but they will need to string together a series of wins while hoping results elsewhere go their way.
In truth, this has not been the breakthrough summer that Lawrence had hoped for after his stellar form for England Lions in Australia in the spring, where he made 493 runs including 125 against Australia A at the MCG.
When he left that tour, it seemed like the only question surrounding his impending international debut was the format it would come in, but with Covid-19 disrupting England’s plans, he has largely been relegated to bench duties this summer. After weeks locked in hotels and carrying drinks, he left the bubble early following the death of his mother, and has struggled for runs back in county cricket, with only 57 runs in five Blast innings before today.
And there was no sign from Lawrence’s first few balls of what was to come, as he played and missed, then offered a half-chance for a caught-and-bowled in the second over, a wicket maiden by Ollie Robinson which accounted for Cameron Delport. With Adam Wheater absent due to family reasons, the emphasis was on him to make a worthwhile contribution.
But he was soon up and running, shimmying down the pitch and over to the off side to cart the first ball of Robinson’s second over through wide mid-on for six before skipping down to whip him over the pavilion at midwicket four balls later.
Luke Wright threw the ball to his left-arm spinner Danny Briggs after that onslaught, hoping he could turn it away from the bat and beat the edge, but Lawrence was not in the mood to push and prod. Instead, he gave himself room to chip over extra cover, before hitting three towering sixes over mid-on.
Two further boundaries off Tymal Mills – a wristy cut and a straight drive – took him to 47 off 18 balls by the time the Powerplay was over. In fact, by the time he had chipped Mills’ slower ball to mid-off in the 13th to finish with 81 off 44 balls, his scoring had started to slow down.
Lawrence was ably supported by Tom Westley, whose 39 was characteristically attractive, while Michael Pepper and Simon Harmer’s late flurry – they added 45 for the sixth wicket in the final four overs – was vital to a total of 195 after Delray Rawlins’ tight spell had tightened things up in the middle.
Sussex were hampered by a blow to Ollie Robinson diving in the field – he recovered sufficiently to bowl one over at the death – and a knock to Mills, who went off at the end of the 18th as a precaution after feeling pain in his back. They were also left to rue the absence of Chris Jordan, who has flown to the UAE ahead of the IPL after playing their last two matches, while Phil Salt – in the England bubble – was a big miss in the run-chase.
In Salt’s place, Aaron Thomason came in as a makeshift opener, and struggled for timing in an innings of 47. One of the oddities of behind-closed-doors cricket is that players become commentators, and his innings was punctuated by regular shouts of “rate’s going up, boys”, “top edge coming, straight up here” and “15 off 17 in the Powerplay” from Westley.
With Thomason out of sorts, Sussex relied on Rawlins – who has quietly thrived on additional responsibility this season in the middle order – to provide the impetus on his 23rd birthday as the rate climbed. He made his intentions clear by nailing a sweep through wide long-on off Aron Nijjar’s left-arm spin, before lofting Harmer down the ground for six and chipping two more just out of boundary riders’ reach in the 13th.
But Lawrence immediately delivered a breakthrough with the first ball he bowled, as Rawlins attempted to reverse-lap over the keeper’s head but only managed to find short third man. Thomason holed out when cramped for room from round the wicket in the third over, and crucially, Sussex had two new batsmen at the crease.
One of those was Ravi Bopara, playing against Essex for the first time after 415 matches for them. Bopara’s Sussex career is yet to take off, with a top score of just 18 to date. In fact, head coach Jason Gillespie found himself defending his new signing on Twitter this week after criticism from a vicar; he will have to hope that the reverend keeps the faith, after Bopara holed out to long-on for 7.
David Wiese has regularly delivered wins from unlikely situations this season, but the equation proved beyond him as the rate climbed: he found Harmer at long-off from a Sam Cook full toss with 30 needed off the last two overs, and took any residual hope with him.