Outstanding Steelbacks book spot in t20 final
An average showing with the ball was put into context in the chase which was superbly paced and clinically delivered.
And the end result is that Alex Wakely’s side are one strong performance away from, potentially, some silverware that wouldn’t have realistically been on their agenda in April.
As inauspicious starts go, dropping a cavalier opener in the first over, as Cameron White did to reprieve Hamish Rutherford from the game’s third ball, would be right up there in this type of encounter.
The next ball being hoisted high into the crowd over fine leg would hardly have helped matters and neither would the 20-minute thrash the New Zealander embarked on.
Fortunately, his fireworks came to an end before the powerplay had concluded as a mishit pull off Muhammad Azharullah lobbed to midwicket.
Greg Smith had already departed as he sliced Steven Crook to third man early on and with the damage being done from only one end, the six overs of fielding restrictions concluded with the score showing a run of the mill 51-2.
That meant the dangerous Ravi Bopara was at the crease and along with Mark Pettini they moved the score along freely enough so that the halfway point arrived with 77-2 on the big screen and the platform laid for an all-out assault.
But that failed to materialise as the pair were dismissed within six balls of each other, Pettini skying James Middlebrook and Bopara, who never got going, lofted Kyle Coetzer’s rarely used medium pace to deep midwicket.
With the run rate drying up, an under par total looked on the cards but that all changed in the final quarter of the innings.
Coming together in the 16th over when Ryan ten Doeschate skewed a drive to third man off Azharullah, James Foster and Graham Napier turned the average into more easily defendable 168-5 with a brutal partnership of 54 in only 26 deliveries.
For once, the death bowlers failed to hit the required length as the duo merrily swept and clubbed what was served up, aided by a simple dropped catch by Wakely at mid-off in the penultimate over with the fortunate Napier cashing in by getting stuck into Azharullah’s poor final offering.
But if they were slightly dispirited wandering off the field, the mood in the Steelbacks’ camp will have improved markedly half a dozen overs into their reply and the reason for this was Richard Levi.
The South African, after taking a handful of balls to find his bearings, sprinted to a cleanly-struck 50 in a meagre 27 deliveries with no fewer than 40 - four of each - coming in boundaries.
It was easy to forget that Coetzer was there given the extent to which Levi dominated and when he slapped Reece Topley to mid-off, his contribution to a 74-run stand was just 18.
That put the Steelbacks in a position where the game was theirs to lose with 86 needed from half the allocation, however, the momentum shifted a touch when Levi and Wakely fell close together.
With Essex now buoyant it was easy to see how another couple of wickets would’ve seen the chase fall apart but that is not how it panned out as White and Crook, who would finish on an express, undefeated 46, made a tricky equation seem almost routine.
Fifty-six from five overs is far from straightforward but it was chewed up and spat out in ruthless fashion as a battery of sixes - five came in 14 balls and 51 were added in only 13 balls at one stage - saw them power past the winning post with a scarcely believable 11 balls to spare.