Friday 16th July 2021 – The Vitality T20 Blast – The Ageas Bowl, Southampton
What’s better than sunshine, a few beers and an enthralling game of T20? How about two games of T20, a few more beers and another last over victory? Oh go on then.
The decision to schedule two games in one day was genius, but it was unfortunately arranged with the lockdown restrictions being removed and a bumper Friday afternoon/evening crowd guaranteed.
Unfortunately, the four week extension to restrictions meant the number of ticket holders were reduced, with thousands being disappointed, including me. But I had planned ahead and booked one of the Hilton hotel rooms that overlook the Ageas Bowl. Similar in design to the hotel at Old Trafford, but closer to the action, who needs tickets when you have a perfect view?
Twenty four hours before we were due to arrive the hotel contacted me to say there had been a cock-up and they had overbooked the rooms. We were bumped to the golf course side but as compensation we were given tickets to the game, plus a handful of free drink vouchers. I’m easily bought.
First up, on the hottest day of the year on the South Coast was the Essex Eagles. Hampshire weren’t yet out of the running for a spot in the quarter-finals, despite being in 7th spot. However, if they could win both of the Friday games they would be in with a shout. However, three wins from eleven games didn’t give much confidence to the 2,000 fans basking in the sunshine as the Hawks won the toss and decided to bat.
The opening pair, James Vince and D’Arcy Short started strongly, racing to a fifty partnership after six overs and putting on 69 before Short fell, caught by Cook. Two balls later it was deja vu as Dawson fell to the same combination.
Vince and de Grandhomme put on fifty in double quick time before Vince fell for 62, then the Kiwi was caught on the boundary by ten Doesschate for a rapid fire 32. A possible 200+ final score slowly dropped down to 170 as none of the Hawks batsmen bar McManus could stick around for more than a few balls.
The away fans were thin on the ground apart from a couple in one of the hotel rooms overlooking the pitch who were on a mission to support their team, although they struggled with a couple of the player pronounciations – ten Doeschate became Dutchman and Nijjar was Nigel – I suppose that was better than pronouncing the j’s as g’s!
The Essex response was almost immediately dented in the first over when Wheater fell for two, bringing Dan Lawrence to the crease. For almost ten overs the two looked as if Essex could win this, keeping up with the run rate and putting on eight runs in nine overs before Westley fell for 39. Lawrence edged to his fifty but a rapid turnover of batting partners saw any chance of victory disappear by the time he departed for 60 with fifty still needed from five overs.
The last four wickets fell in three overs, with Brad Wheal taking the final two wickets, both bowled in two balls to give Hampshire a comfortable 18 run victory.
The COVID restrictions meant that to get to our table in Beefy’s restaurant that opens up onto the concourse where our seats were we had to exit the ground, walk half way around the perimeter of the ground, into the hotel, up two floors and then through the one way system. Naturally, the restaurant was packed and we had to settle for a table at 6.30pm, meaning we would miss the first few overs of the second game, although the view from our table meant we could see the batman at the far end crease.
Sussex won the toss and decided to bat, hoping to tire out the Hampshire side with back to back fielding stints in the sweltering conditions. Sussex were one win away from securing their quarter-final spot, although their decent run rate gave them the advantage over the teams below.
I’d talked up the batting of Phil Salt to CMF and true to form he dispatched the first ball of the innings to the boundary from Dawson. Then the next ball he was caught trying to hit the ball out of the ground. That’s T20 cricket for you.
Skipper Luke Wright and veteran Ravi Bopara have shared a few decent partnerships in their time and they went about their business quickly and effectively, reaching their 100 partnership in the 12th over before Wright fell for 54. Bopara fell a few overs later for 62 and in a similar position to the Hawks innings earlier in the day, a score of 200+ slowly came down as apart from Khan, nobody could settle and score quickly.
A target of 184 was going to be tough for Hampshire, who had only once score more than 180 in this season’s T20. But Short and Vince, having put on a decent opening stand earlier in the day, were still in the mood. They put on 120 in 12 overs before Short was bowled by Beer, who soon had Prest removed for six. But at the other end Vince was going great guns. He put three balls into the crowd, one of which was superbly caught by one of the lively group of fans in the north stand.
It is rare to see players make a century in T20 but he brought his up off 57 balls. Two balls later he stepped back too far to cut a ball from Ollie Robinson and knocked the bails off, giving the bowler a rare “hit wicket” dismissal. The Hawks still needed sixteen off 13 balls and Weatherley’s 19 off 7 balls set up a final over finale. Four to win which Weatherley knocked off the first ball of the over, then taking a single off the next to give the Hawks a second win of the day.
The two wins gave Hampshire some hope with just one game to play. It was a superb few hours of cricket, with the sunshine at its finest and a well organised afternoon. Roll on next season when they can do this again in front of a full house. As for the star of the day? James “Invincible” Vince – 165 runs from 105 balls in two innings.