Simon Harmer the hero as Essex Eagles have a blast with thrilling last-ball win against Worcestershire in T20 Final
This is the summer of cricket in 2019, when the miraculous has almost come to seem mundane, as the sport has traversed new depths of the brilliant and the absurd.
And so when Simon Harmer lashed the final delivery of English cricket’s longest day for four, wheeling away to be engulfed by his team-mates, it was completely in keeping with the bedlam that has come before. At the end of a game that had simmered deliciously, Essex were the T20 Blast victors for the first time in their history.
Naturally, they had got there traversing arduous terrain. On a slow pitch that militated against rapid scoring, Essex stumbled in their chase of 146, slumping to 82-5 in the 14th over. Ravi Bopara’s clean striking and scampering between the wickets whittled that target down to 17 from the last eight balls, but he would face only one of those.
Instead, the fate of the 2019 Blast was left to the bat of Simon Harmer. Essex’s T20 skipper thumped his first ball for four, and then needed six from Wayne Parnell’s final two balls, unable to get Bopara, Essex’s designated finisher, on strike. A ferocious straight drive from the penultimate ball of the match created an agonising wait before the final delivery, when Essex really only needed one run to win on fewer wickets left.
There was little to fault Parnell's yorker outside off stump, but Harmer’s clean square drive navigated the in-field. Having already produced the best-ever figures on finals day, taking 7-35 across the semi-final and final with his biting off-breaks, now Harmer had scored the winning runs too.Credit: getty images
Essex’s delirious celebrations revealed not just the excruciating tension of the final, but the sheer improbability of their journey. They began the 2019 Blast season abjectly, and required the cocktail of a late surge and a plethora of other favourable results just to sneak into fourth and the knockout stages. But, once there, they produced an emphatic performance to dispose of Lancashire - admittedly fortunate that Lancashire’s home game was moved to Chester-le-Street - and then clinically disposed of Derbyshire in the second semi-final at Edgbaston.
While Harmer was intoxicated in the glory of victory, Bopara could be seen nonchalantly removing his helmet, a picture of cool. His presence at the end, making a crucial 36, was apt, for Essex’s decision to move Bopara to a finisher’s role, at number five or six, underpinned the metamorphosis of their campaign.
Bopara was left out of two Essex games earlier this season and was nonplussed to be shunted down the order, declaring, “I'm still not happy down there” before the quarter-final. But across Essex’s last five games - all of which were won - Bopara scored 219 runs for once out.
“I’m going to do what I think is best for the team,” Harmer said, explaining the tough decisions he had taken in order to reinvigorate Essex’s T20 campaign.
“That was one of the decisions that needed to be made. In my opinion Ravi is one of, if not the, best finishers in T20 innings so I felt in order for us to win games we needed him to come in at six and finish games for us.
"I want to win trophies and I'm going to do what I think is best for the team. If individuals don't think that's best for the team that's their prerogative.
“He came back from time away from the team, he bought in 100 per cent and he reaped the rewards.”
“He’s an incredibly talented cricketer,” Harmer added. “I need to deliver and get 10 other blokes buying into the same plan.”
To do so at Edgbaston, Essex had to overcome Moeen Ali - opening the batting and bowling and captaining like a regal schoolboy cricketer - and Pat Brown - whose chicanery at the death furthered his claims to win a berth in England’s T20 squad. In excelling throughout the day, just as they had done a year earlier, these two took Worcestershire to within one run of T20 Blast history. Instead, still no side has retained the Blast.
The fireworks that went off at 9.34pm might well mark the start of the best week in Essex’s history. By the time Thursday is out, Essex will win the County Championship too, as long as they can avoid defeat at Taunton.