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The Race for the Knockouts

The final week of the Royal London One-Day Cup brought a series of twists and turns as the race to reach the knockout stages hotted up. There were five matches on 30 April, and two of them ended as nailbiters. At Gosforth, Lancashire seemed to have done most of the hard work when they bowled out Durham for just 229, despite Alex Lees making 115 – his maiden century for his new county and his highest List-A score. It was clearly a game for No 3s, as Steven Croft hit 99 in Lancashire run chase. Tight bowling meant that when Stephen Parry was seventh out, Lancashire had just four overs to score 32. Graham Onions proved the unlikely match-winner with the bat, hitting 16 not out in six balls, two of them clearing the ropes, to see them home with four balls to spare.

It was even more dramatic at Chelmsford, where the hosts made 283 for seven. Sussex were deep in trouble at 94 for six in reply, but Laurie Evans (68) and Will Beer (75) put on 121 for the seventh wicket, before Evans was out with eight overs remaining and 69 wanted. With four overs remaining, Mir Hamza had joined Danny Briggs with 24 still needed. By the start of the final over, there were still seven runs required, Dan Lawrence the bowler. A leg bye brought Hamza on strike, and on the third ball of the over he got the single to get Briggs back. The spinner then hit the next two balls for four, securing victory with one ball and one wicket to spare.

There were more routine wins elsewhere. At Derby, Warwickshire scored 288 for seven, with Alex Thomson hitting a career-best 68 not out. Wayne Madsen hit an unbeaten 119 to see the hosts home by five wickets, with time to spare. At Bristol, a career-best 161 in 127 balls by Chris Cooke propelled Glamorgan to 331 for seven. Jack Taylor replied with his highest score of 75, but Gloucestershire were dismissed for 257. Surrey’s miserable tournament continued at The Oval, with Hampshire making 307, boosted by Liam Dawson’s 108. Ryan Patel made his debut for the home side, and picked up two wickets. Mark Stoneman’s aggressive 70 wasn’t enough, and Surrey were bowled out for 254.

There were just three games on 1 May, and in-form Nottinghamshire suffered their first defeat when they were skittled out for 121 at Worcester as Wayne Parnell took five for 24. Lyndon James was out for a duck on his debut. The home side sped to their target in just 25.1 overs, losing five wickets in the process. Somerset’s form seemed to have deserted them at Radlett, where Middlesex hit 364 for six, Sam Robson making 106. With no one even making a fifty in reply, Somerset subsided to 246 all out, a result that meant both sides stood joint second in the table. At Northampton, the hosts were unlucky with Duckworth-Lewis after they made a formidable 351 all out, inspired by a maiden century from Ricardo Vasconcelos, who hit 112 in 97 balls. Yorkshire ended up with a target of 175 in 25 overs, and got there with five wickets down and a ball to spare. It was impressive stuff as, with 13 balls left they still needed 32 for victory, but some big hitting from Gary Ballance and Jonathan Tattersall did the job.

More than 700 runs were scored in Southampton on 2 May, where the home side set a daunting target of 355 for five. Tom Alsop scored his second century of the tournament (124) and Aiden Markram hit a blistering 130 in just 87 balls, taking 73 of them to get to three figures. At 103 for five, Sussex had no chance, until David Wiese came in and made a county record 171 in 126 balls. With ten balls to go, Sussex needed just 13 for victory, but it was the next one, bowled by Kyle Abbott, that accounted for him. The final three wickets then crumbled away, as Sussex were bowled out for 346 with three balls remaining.

Surrey’s woeful season continued at The Oval, where they were trounced by Kent. The home side were bowled out for 127 in 35.2 overs, which Kent easily achieved with eight wickets and 22 overs to spare. Meanwhile, at Old Trafford 84 from Keaton Jennings and an unbeaten 77 from Jake Lehmann on his debut for the county took Lancashire to 239 for six in 38 overs. Derbyshire needed a similar effort from the top order, but no one could quite go on to make a big score, and they finished on 209 for seven.

After Friday’s game between Nottinghamshire and Durham was lost to the weather, by the start of the Bank holiday weekend, the North Group had effectively resolved itself into any three from four to go through to the knockout stage. Nottinghamshire were top (11 points from seven) and had just struggling Northamptonshire to face, knowing a victory would see them through to the semi-finals as group winners. Lancashire, in second on ten points, had to go to Warwickshire, where a result would ensure they too qualified. Durham (nine points) had a tricky trip to Headingley ahead of them, but even if they won, they could lose out to Worcestershire (eight points), who knew they would have to beat both Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

In the South Group, Hampshire (12 points from seven) were four points clear, and had a Sunday visit to Taunton to look forward to. Somerset, Sussex and Middlesex each had eight points from six games, with Somerset also due to take on Surrey, while Sussex faced Gloucestershire and Glamorgan. Middlesex were matched up with Glamorgan and Kent.

Saturday’s games left Lancashire’s hopes to proceeding hanging by a thread, after they lost to Warwickshire by five wickets at Edgbaston. Skipper Dane Vilas hit 83 off 79 and Saq Mahmood weighed in with a career-best 45 as Lancashire reached 277 for seven. A brief interruption for rain left the hosts to chase 255 in 45 overs, and they got there with three balls to spare thanks to a steady unbeaten 84 from Sam Hain and a vital 30 not out off 13 balls from Alex Mellor. The Red Rose was left waiting on the outcome of Durham’s final match.

Meanwhile, Worcestershire ensured they would be part of the knockout stage after an emphatic win over Yorkshire at New Road. The home side batted first and reached 293 for seven, with George Rhodes hitting a maiden century (106). Yorkshire made just 143 in reply, with Wayne Parnell taking five for 25 to complete back-to-back five-wicket hauls. There was little more than pride at stake as the two bottom sides faced each other at Grace Road. Northamptonshire made 290 for six, with 102 from Rob Keogh. Scotland international George Munsey made his List-A debut for Leicestershire but could only score 6, and no one else could make the big contribution required, so they made 261 for nine in their run chase.

On Sunday, it was the South Group in action, and Hampshire secured their place at the top of the table with a crushing win over Somerset at Taunton. The hosts were bowled out for just 216 and Hampshire raced to victory in 31.3 overs for the loss of just three wickets, but Somerset held on to third place on net run rate. Middlesex moved into second place after they beat Glamorgan at Lord’s. The visitors needed a career-best 87 from Charlie Hemphrey to help them up to 285 all out, while Nathan Sowter took four for 58. A second-wicket partnership of 147 between Sam Robson (79) and Nick Gubbins (92) ensured there’d be few worries, and Middlesex reached their target with five wickets and 15 balls to spare.

A comprehensive win for Gloucestershire at the Saffrons in Eastbourne put them into the mix for the knockout stages. Choosing to bat first, the visitors were set on their way by Miles Hammond, whose 95 was not only a career-best but also the highest score by a visiting player on this ground. The real fireworks came late, though, when Jack Taylor blasted eight sixes on his way to making 69 not out off 26 balls. Gloucestershire, having been 200 for three after 40 overs, finished on 335 for six, a ground record. With Luke Wright and David Wiese having both set new county records this season, Sussex needed one or other to come up with a big score but, shorn of three stars in Jofra Archer, Chris Jordan and Phil Salt on England duty, it was all too much. Gloucestershire caught everything – a diving one-handed catch from Chris Dent to remove Stiaan van Zyl being especially notable – whereas Sussex had dropped a couple, and that was just one difference between the sides, as the hosts subsided to 219 all out. You have to go back to 1998 for Sussex’s last win at the Saffrons, though there have been only three List-A games in that time!

There was little riding on the game between Kent and Essex at Beckenham, but the hosts ran out winners by six wickets. Essex batted first and made 271 for nine, with Aaron Beard scoring 22 not out on his debut. Daniel Bell-Drummond (120 not out) and Zak Crawley (94) added 188 for the first wicket to put the home side in complete control and they eased to victory with 20 balls to spare. So, in the final game of the group, any of the sides from 2-5 in the table could join Hampshire in the knockout stages, and those four teams were all due to play the sides placed from 6-9.

For the final day in the North Group, attention centred on Headingley, where Yorkshire entertained Durham – a win for the visitors would ensure that they leapfrogged Lancashire into the final knockout place. The hosts got in early with the idea that in 2020 this will be a development competition by giving debuts to four players: Ben Birkhead, Tom Loten, Jordan Thompson and Jared Warner. But their first outing was spoiled by the rain, as Durham scored 182 for two before the match was abandoned. The result meant that Lancashire pipped Durham because they’d won their encounter.

Nottinghamshire ensured they qualified automatically for the semi-finals after a thrilling win over Northamptonshire at the County Ground. The home side made 325 for seven, but it was Samit Patel who carried his side to victory, as so often in the past, with a brilliant career-best 136 not out in 124 balls. Even that doesn’t do full justice to his efforts, though, as going into the final over he had just seen Matt Carter bowled out, meaning he was left with No 11 and 12 were still required, Ben Sanderson bowling. The previous four overs had gone for 47. The first ball was smashed for six, the next was carved behind square and he then followed it up with another to the same spot to seize victory.

There were more than 700 runs scored at Derby, with four centurions. The hosts batted first and Luis Reece (128) hit a maiden century in his 40th game at this level, adding 222 for the second wicket with Wayne Madsen (113). That set Derbyshire well on the way to a big total of 351 for nine. It was soon made to look inadequate by Riki Wessels, who hit a spectacular 130 in 62 balls, reaching his century in 47 deliveries (taking just 16 of them to go from 50 to 100), the quickest of the series. In total, he hit 10 fours and 11 sixes, the most by any batsman this season. When he was out in the 23rd over, the score was 186 for two, and it was left to Callum Ferguson (103 not out in 95 balls) to see his side home with four wickets and ten balls to spare.

There was nothing at stake at Grace Road, where Leicestershire scored 340, Tom Taylor making an unbeaten career-best 98Rob Yates made his debut for Warwickshire, and hit 66 before he was run out. It proved to be the top score in the innings, as they were all out for 304 – Taylor nipping in to pick up three wickets. The hosts’ win wasn’t enough to lift them off the bottom of the table.

There was something at stake in every match on the final day of the league stages. At Canterbury, second-placed Middlesex ensured their qualification with a 33-run victory over Kent, thanks largely to a superb innings of 166 by Max Holden, a record for the county, which helped them up to 380 for five. It needed something special from the hosts, and it almost got it from Zak Crawley, who made a career-best 120, but even that wasn’t enough as they ended up on 347 all out. Third-placed Somerset hosted Surrey, who made 289 for nine, with Jamie Overton taking four for 64. James Hildreth’s 93 was enough to ensure his side eased home with five wickets and 26 balls to spare.

At Chelmsford, Gloucestershire were made to work much harder for their victory by four wickets over Essex. Varun Chopra (156) made his third century of the competition to push his side up to 293 all out, before James Bracey hit a career-best 113 not out in the visitors’ run chase. The most exciting game took place at Hove, where Laurie Evans’s 110 was the biggest component in Sussex’s 347 for seven. There were contributions all the way down the order for Glamorgan, but it was debutant Roman Walker who had the final say, hitting a six off Mir Hamza to see his side home with eight balls and two wickets to spare.

The results meant that Worcestershire will host Somerset and Middlesex will welcome Lancashire on Friday.