Essex Eagles v Sussex Sharks at the Cloudfm County Ground, Chelmsford
Essex Eagles 128 for 8 lost to Sussex Sharks 130 for 3 by seven wickets
Luke Wright entered the 2021 Vitality Blast with a stunning 75 off 44 balls as Sussex Sharks made it three wins from three with a seven-wicket victory over Essex Eagles.
The Blast’s all-time leading run-scorer missed the opening two rounds after splitting the webbing in his hand while practising fielding on the eve of the competition.
But he made up for lost time by bringing up his fifty in 33 deliveries as Sussex chased down Essex’s below-par 128 for eight with 36 balls to spare.
Wright looked at home right from the start, with boundaries from his second and third deliveries – two of eight fours.
Opening partner Phil Salt earned a life when he bludgeoned a full toss to mid-on, only to be reprieved when the umpire judged the ball to have been above waist-height, much to Simon Harmer’s chagrin.
He was run out for 13, after putting on 54 with Wright before Travis Head added 60 together with the skipper.
Wright continued to his 26th Blast half-century, going past 8,000 T20 career runs, with a pair of straight sixes and another over cow corner.
He departed with six still needed but Delray Rawlins clattered the winning runs over long-off soon after.
Wright’s day had started perfectly as he won the toss and stuck the hosts in – although Will Buttleman struck successive sixes in the fourth over.
On a used hybrid pitch, scoring proved difficult for Essex with only Buttleman, Michael Pepper and Jimmy Neesham’s strike-rates topping 100, for those who reached double figures.
The strain on scoring was exemplified by the last over of the powerplay, which saw just one run, as Paul Walter struggled to lay a bat on Chris Jordan – the run-rate throughout the innings hovering just below seven an over.
To add to the Eagles’ woes, wickets were a regular occurrence.
Tom Westley and Buttleman fell in the powerplay – the former picking out deep mid-wicket off George Garton and the latter slapping a Tymal Mills slower ball to cover.
Walter was stumped, Ryan ten Doeschate clubbed old pal Ravi Bopara to long off, Pepper – having scored 38 off 25 balls – drilled to extra cover, Simon Harmer miscued to mid-wicket, Jack Plom skied to mid-off and Neesham was comprehensively bowled.
Garton ended up with three for 31, with Mills’ two for 21, Jordan’s one for 21 and Bopara’s one for 17 all going at under a run-a-ball.
Wright said afterwards: “From a bowling point of view, we were really clinical. We took wickets at the right time and to restrict them to that total on a small ground was always going to be under par.
“We usually expect a more hostile crowd at Chelmsford but it was a bit sleepy, so we wanted to create an atmosphere and asked the bowlers to keep momentum.
“It has been a long time since the T10s in January for my last game so to get out there and start with a score is pleasing. The running was a bit rusty – I owe Phil a beer that’s for sure.
“I am proud [of reaching 8,000 career T20 runs]. It is something I can look back on at the end of my career but right now it is about keeping the body going at 36 and hopefully contributing to Sussex wins.”
Pepper, who scored 38, said: “It was very disappointing. On the batting front we were nowhere near getting enough runs and lost wickets at the wrong time. We couldn’t get enough partnerships together on a pitch which was difficult to start on.
“Wright is one of the best T20 players to have played in England. The way he was able to build his innings and go towards the end once he was in showed us how it could be done on a wicket like that.”
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