Nottinghamshire 373 for 5 (Patel 122*, Mullaney 111, Porter 3-56) beat Essex 370 for 5 (Cook 133, ten Doeschate 102*) by five wickets
This was an enthralling game, deserving the accolade as one of the finest one-day matches in the history of English domestic cricket. It fell to Nottinghamshire who pulled off a record county cricket run chase by overhauling a target of 371 with three balls to spare and who reached the final of the Royal London Cup in the process.
But how Essex played their part. It felt like Alastair Cook‘s match when they rattled up 370 for 5, Cook’s limited-overs pedigree never more apparent in making 133 from 128 balls. It felt even more Essex’s game when Ryan ten Doeschate, their captain, smashed an unbeaten 102 from 66 balls.
Instead, hundreds in reply from Samit Patel, who would have needed life support on standby if he had batted on much longer, and Steven Mullaney, matching what ten Doeschate had produced before in a classy retort which insisted he must be termed “unsung” no longer, squeezed Nottinghamshire into the final at Lord’s where they will face the winners of Saturday’s semi-final between Worcestershire and Surrey.
Their chase surpassed Hampshire’s 359 for 8 against Surrey at the Kia Oval in 2005 when Australian Shane Watson opened his shoulders.
County cricket struggles to gain attention these days. But this was exceptional, a feast of entertainment, a reminder of the entertainment potentially on offer on England’s professional circuit when the best players are released from an overblown international circuit which has long become too repetitive for its own good. It challenged those English cricket lovers whose eyes never stray below the international game and then it challenged them again.
A record 185-run fifth-wicket partnership in 24 overs between Patel and Mullaney helped carry Nottinghamshire home on a day when 743 runs were scored for the loss of only 10 wickets. They had begun in gung-ho fashion, 80 for 3 in 9.2 overs, all of them to Jamie Porter, with Essex arguably one more wicket away from killing the game.
Essex’s hopes flared again when Patel, who majors in hangdog shoulders even when creaming the ball to all parts, was involved in the run out of Brendan Taylor for 62. He did little wrong, striking the ball square on the offside, screaming “no” more than once but finding Taylor alongside him: the same Taylor whose 154 at Taunton had carried Notts to 429 a few days earlier, the second highest domestic score in history. Not a man to stay in your crease for, even if you were as blameless and talented as Samit Patel.
It was a burden he shouldered admirably, finishing triumphant with 122 from 123 balls, helped by a marginal third umpire’s decision on 81 when Ravi Bopara fell agonisingly short of claiming a diving catch from ten Doeschate’s first ball.
Mullaney’s fifth six, over long-on off Ravi Bopara, brought up his first List A century from 71 balls before he fell attempting to uppercut Neil Wagner and was caught behind. That left six from nine balls, with Patel told by Mullaney to get the job done. Two desperate edges in the final over from Simon Walter sufficed, the first causing ten Doeschate to yank his hat over his head in disbelief, the second settling it. “You need a little bit of luck and I rode it a bit,” said Patel, with magnificent near-exhaustion.
All of which meant the story changed, because before then it was all about the irony. England crash out of the Champions Trophy and almost immediately the most high-profile batsman they rejected on the way to inventing their brave new world plays one of the limited-overs of his life.
Cook, still a stalwart in the Test format, last played an ODI for England before the last World Cup where their approach was deemed so outdated that it tipped them into a new positive approach under Eoin Morgan which won such acclaim that they were regarded as a strong chance to win their first global 50-over trophy… until it all went wrong against Pakistan in Cardiff.
Cook will have shared England’s disappointment. He does not do grudges. But he is capable of meaningful displays of his own prowess. It is what makes him such a fierce campaigner. As he came within four runs below his highest one-day score, he was at his most fluent. Ten Doeschate, the Essex captain, then came in at No 5 and struck around him with upright power.
Cook played at a canter. Square cuts and nudges off his hips came with absolute certainty. A late dab off Mullaney to reach 50 displayed finesse. Stuart Broad, an England team-mate, taunted him with no mid-off – he rarely drives down the ground – and Cook, 77 by then, took a boundary with a smile. He repeated the shot against Broad for his hundred, mid-off now in place but to no avail. He fell to a slog sweep against Patel, eight overs from time, the ball not quite up for the shot.
It took ten Doeschate to bring a capacity crowd at Chelmsford to its feet, taking three sixes off Harry Gurney in the penultimate over. Seventy-two came off the last five overs. It felt like a matchwinning phase. It turned out to be nothing of the sort.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.