Yorkshire vs Sussex Sharks

Tuesday 24th August 2021 – The Vitality T20 Blast Quarter-Final at The Emirates Riverside, Durham

After three months of travelling around the country I arrived in Durham’s Emirates Riverside stadium to complete my tour of all 18 First Class county grounds. Alas, I can’t ignore the fact that it wouldn’t be Durham I would be seeing so it isn’t quite the full set I had hoped to complete. Instead, Yorkshire had the honour of being the home side for the first T20 Quarter-Final with Headingley being used by the ECB for the 3rd Test between England and India.

Yorkshire had arrived trying to bring their Headingley invincibility with them, including the exact dimensions of the boundary. Marginal gains and all that. A home draw at this stage is supposed to be an advantage, especially with the visitors having to make the 700 mile round trip to County Durham. But things don’t always pan out the way they should.

The venue of choice for the “out of towners” for this game was the Lambton Arms. Chester-le-Street’s premier pub/hotel and just a ten minute walk away from the Riverside. Whilst the majority of the crowd wouldn’t be local, for most it was “only” an hour and a bit’s drive or 90 minutes on the train from Leeds. The closest hotel to the ground is the imposing Lumley Castle which sits on a hill above the ground. Perfect for visiting cricket sides who don’t mind the ghost stories, the strange goings on in the night and the £300 a night price tag. Both the Australian and West Indies touring sides in the past probably wished they’d booked the Lambton Arms after their brief stays at the castle.

Alas, due to circumstances beyond their control (i.e the staff wanted to go to the cricket) the kitchen wasn’t opened when I arrived at 5pm, nor would it be until the following morning. It didn’t worry too many people who tucked into beer as their five course tasting menu.

I’d been to the Riverside once before. England vs West Indies in July 2000. It was a freezing day up in County Durham and I’d made the mistake of assuming July meant t-shirt and shorts in the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. Alas, as we disembarked from our flight from Gatwick to Newcastle it was clear we had woefully underestimated the meaning of Summer in these parts. The start was delayed and when it did get going the normally free-hitting West Indies including Lara, Gayle and Adams could only muster 169-8 in 50 overs.

With 15 minutes to go in the West Indies innings we hot-footed into town to stock up on alcohol, which involved a couple of us buying XXXL hoodie tops, on sale in the Durham club shop for £5 each and then filling the sleeves and front pouch with alcohol, including two wine bags, from the box variety before we returned. The stewards were only interested in checking our bags, containing a dozen bags of crisps and let us in.

Alec Stewart and Marcus Trescothick put on 171 to see England home with 10 wickets and 15 overs still left. We headed to the bright lights of Newcastle for a night out, the West Indies to the spooky Lumley Castle.

So, twenty one years later and I was back. The ground had been upgraded with excellent facilities for fans. When in the North-East, eat what the locals do and the queue for the Chicken Gyros seemed to suggest it was the dish of the day. Handful of chips, chicken from the spit, salad (a teaspoon of onion – don’t want to over do it) and drowned in garlic mayo. That’ll do nicely.

And so to the game. Yorkshire had finished top of the Northern T20 Group and would have fancied their chances, having won 6 of their 7 home games in the tournament (with the 7th being abandoned). However, that lively and partizan home atmosphere couldn’t be replicated in Durham, could it?

Both sides welcomed back their players from the Hundred but having been without them in the squads for the last six weeks could be something of a lottery when the two sides took the field, with the home side winning the toss and batting.

Yorkshire’s strength in the tournament has been the batting form of the likes of Adam Lyth, Harry Brooks and skipper David Willey. All three were back in the dugout with the score on 33 after 5 overs. It wasn’t the steady, occasionally explosive start, that had been the foundation of Yorkshire’s T20 success. But Ballance was there to keep the show on the road, scoring 55 off 37 balls before he fell to George Garton, caught by Rashid Khan. Ballance put on 85 runs for the 4th wicket with opener Kohler-Cadmore who took his departure as his cue to open up and start hitting the ball, pushing Yorkshire past the 150 mark before he departed, also for 55.

Yorkshire would have been happy with a total of 177. Anything over 150 is a difficult total to chase in day/night games. Sussex have had a number of strong opening stands in this season’s tournament and that was what was needed here. Phil Salt, back from his stint with the Manchester Originals had lost some of his early season big hitting form but he made 27 and was the first to fall with the score on 72. Luke Wright at the other end was keeping the run rate in check before he was bowled all ends up by Rashid for an impressive knock of 54 off 39 balls.

The pressure was now on the middle order to deliver as the overs counted down. When David Wiese departed for 19 the Sharks were 156-5 with 12 balls to go. 22 needed but with Rashid Khan and Chris Jordan at the wicket – the odds were in Yorkshire’s favour but then Khan hit three consecutive fours in the middle of the 19th over and all of a sudden the total was down to just six off six balls. Two well-taken singles before Jordan’s drive beat the in-field and Sussex had won with two balls to spare. The celebrations were understandably wild. The Sharks were the underdogs and they had pulled off a fantastic run chase.

The fans went off into the night in all directions. Had this been played in front of a full-house at Headingley would the result have been different? Perhaps. Had Yorkshire had their full squad together for the last few weeks would that have made a different? Maybe, but the same could have been said for Sussex. Whatever the case, it was a fantastic advert for the original short-form game and one that surely wouldn’t be bettered as we headed south to Nottingham…

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