In the South Group, Essex confirmed their place in the play-off final of the Bob Willis Trophy with a victory over Middlesex inside three days at Chelmsford. The visitors chose to bat first, but must have quickly regretted it as Jamie Porter and Sam Cook reduced them to 38 for four, and there was no recovery as they fell away to 138 all out. In reply, Essex also lost four early wickets, but 83 not out from Adam Wheater saw them up to 236. Aaron Beard was the main threat in Middlesex’s second innings, taking four for 21, as the away side were again bowled out cheaply, for 150. That left Essex to chase 53, and they got there for the loss of just one wicket.
At Canterbury, Kent confirmed their second place in the table with a seven-wicket win over Hampshire. The visitors were put in to bat, and found it tough as they were bowled out for 191. It could have been even worse for them, were it not for debutant Scott Currie, who made a steady 38 in just under two hours. Darren Stevens, as so often, was Kent’s main threat, taking five for 37 in 27 overs, but it was Ollie Robinson, with six catches, who had the best day. Currie’s encouraging start to his career continued when he picked up a wicket with his fourth delivery in first-class cricket to dismiss Jordan Cox for 2. Currie then took a further two wickets in his spell, finishing with three for 42 as Kent were bowled out for 170.
Harry Podmore (five for 43) and Stevens (four for 35) reduced Hampshire to 23 for five before Lewis McManus (50) and Tom Scriven (68, in only his second game) added 87 for the sixth wicket. The other nine batsmen managed a combined 38 as the visitors fell to 159 all out. A target of 181 in a low-scoring game looked like it might be tough, but Zak Crawley, back from his Test heroics, hit 105 in just 100 balls, adding 157 for the second wicket.
At The Oval, Sussex’s 21-year-old opener Tom Haines made his second first-class century (117) to set his side on their way to a total of 415. There was a moment of history when James Coles came to the crease – at just 16 years and 157 days, he was the county’s youngest ever player to make his debut. Coles made 11 in 53 minutes. In only his second match, 20-year-old Daniel Moriarty had his second five-wicket haul, taking five for 154. Another England returnee, Rory Burns, was in the runs, making 103 in Surrey’s reply of 388. Nineteen-year-old off-spinner Jack Carson took a career-best five for 93, and there was even time for a maiden wicket (Ben Foakes) for Coles as Sussex’s young team took a narrow first-innings lead.
It was spin all the way for Surrey in the second innings, and they turned things right round in their side’s favour, dismissing Sussex for just 128. Moriarty took a career-best six for 70 to finish with match figures of 11 for 224 – a year earlier, he had been playing for Bury St Edmunds against Sudbury in the East Anglian Premier League. At the other end, Amar Virdi finished up with four for 40. Chasing 156, there were no mistakes from Surrey, who got there to win by six wickets.
In the Central Group, the drama came in a very different way at Bristol where Northamptonshire chose to field first. The players applauded umpire Jeremy Lloyds onto the pitch ahead of his final game. Meanwhile, it was a first appearance at this level for wicket-keeper Harry Gouldstone, who took an early catch to remove opposite number James Bracey. But there wasn’t any action after lunch, at which point Gloucestershire were 66 for six, because it turned out that one of the visitors’ squad had tested positive for Covid, and the match was abandoned as a draw.
At Cardiff, Warwickshire were put in to bat and, having just announced his retirement, Ian Bell hit 50 in his final first-class match as his side scored 186. Billy Root went one better than Bell, scoring 51 not out, as Glamorgan replied with 203 to take a narrow lead. It appeared as though Bell was going to have the perfect send-off, but Timm van der Gugten bowled him out for 90 to the dismay of cricket romantics everywhere, who will miss the sight of Bell’s off drive. The visitors declared on 347 for seven to set a target of 331. It turned out the same for Bell when it came to searching for a send-off victory, as Glamorgan finished on 265 for nine, the final pair surviving for 17 balls to hang on for a draw.
However, the real focus of attention in the group was always going to be at Worcester where the top two teams fought it out to win the group. Somerset chose to bat first and scored 251, before the home side began their reply getting up to 123 for one. The Somerset seam attack then took charge and Worcestershire were bowled out for 200. Tom Lammonby carried his bat for a career-best 107 not out in Somerset’s total of 193. Ed Barnard was the most successful bowler, taking four for 25, and his side faced a target of 245 to win the match and the group. Four of the top five reached 20, but none went past 30, so the run chase foundered as the hosts were bowled out for 184 to lose by 60 runs. Somerset’s win meant it was they who qualified for the play-off final against Essex at Lord’s on 23 September, having accumulated more points than anyone else.
In the North Group, Yorkshire beat Leicestershire by ten wickets at Headingley to win their league. Ben Coad took five for 18 as the visitors were rolled over for 124. Having fallen to four for 46, Yorkshire’s middle order boosted them up to 252 in reply, Arron Lilley taking three for 21, his best figures for the county. Leicestershire’s second innings of 161 wasn’t much better, as Jordan Thompson did the damage, taking his career-best five for 31. Yorkshire needed just 34 for victory, and sped their way to their win.
At Liverpool, Lancashire chose to bat first and gave debuts to two young players, but their experienced openers were both out for ducks. Wicket-keeper George Lavelle was the first debutant to see any action, making 13. Meanwhile, Jack Morley, when he came into bat for the first time scored just 3 in an hour, as Lancashire ground their way up to 219 all out. At 61 for seven, Derbyshire were in deep trouble, but a patient 84 from Harvey Hosein helped them recover to a total of 195. Hosein was Morley’s maiden first-class victim. In the second innings, Lancashire’s openers, Keaton Jennings (81) and Alex Davies (86), put on 138 to make up their disappointing first innings. George Balderson hit an unbeaten career-best 61 not out to help them to a declaration on 356 for six. With a target of 381, Morley’s debut got even better as he took four for 62. Mattie McKiernan made a maiden half-century, eventually falling for 52, as the visitors were all out for 202, losing by 178 runs.
In the final game of the group, Nottinghamshire and Durham drew at Trent Bridge. The visitors scored 294, with Zak Chappell picking up four wickets. Ben Duckett (150) and Joe Clarke (133) put on 195 for the third wicket to establish control on their way to a reply of 422. Chris Rushworth took seven for 108, and the second of them (Haseeb Hameed) was significant as it took him to 500 for the county, making him the third bowler to reach that landmark for the county, behind Graham Onions (527) and Simon Brown (518). Durham batted 140 overs to score 329 in their second innings, ensuring a draw, with the home side reaching 82 for one, chasing 202.