Nottinghamshire 169 for 7 (Wessels 48, Wood 2-17) beat Hampshire 146 (Vince 56, Gurney 3-19, Mullaney 3-22) by 23 runs
They say that Steven Mullaney is unsung, but little is left unsung on NatWest Blast Finals Day. The cricket takes place to a musical backdrop and Mullaney spotted his moment, exercised his lungs and took Nottinghamshire into the final of the NatWest Blast.
Hampshire played their part in an engrossing, fiercely contested semi-final before succumbing by 23 runs, but if anybody shifted the equilibrium it was Mullaney, the dismissal of James Vince for 56 from 32 balls the most crucial moment of all as Vince swept and Brendon Taylor, running in too far from deep backward square, clutched the ball over his head.
Vince has been looked at in all three formats by England, his last appearance coming in T20, against Sri Lanka on his home ground at the Ageas Bowl in July last year. Too often, he looked irresolute, departing to weak shots, but the majority of those who have followed have also been found wanting to similar degree.
This innings was a timely reminder of his quality, but Mullaney whose medium-paced mix-ups also caused Tom Alsop to chip a return catch and defeated a prodigious mow by George Bailey to bowl him, denied Vince the chance to make his mark in the final in an unbroken spell of 3 for 22.
Add the run out of Michael Carberry – a direct hit by Samit Patel from short third man – and Nottinghamshire, looking powerful and well balanced, had secured a shot at the trophy against Birmingham, their first appearance in the final since 2006.
Only in the last few overs did Nottinghamshire’s victory look assured. With 30 needed off three overs, and four wickets standing, three wickets in an over from the former England left-armer Harry Gurney settled the issue. Riki Wessels held the first two in front of a posse of photographers at long-on, turning round with a thumbs-up after the second one as if to say “that’s in case you missed it”.
Notts’ 169 for 7 felt like serviceable job by a quality batting line-up, but it was far from impregnable. They were hopeful that Dan Christian’s 24 from 12 balls at the death had tipped the balance. But they could not have afforded too much mayhem from Shahid Afridi at the top of the order in reply: they got none at all.
Afridi is one of cricket’s great capricious talents. His 42-ball hundred against Derbyshire got Hampshire to Finals Day; he marked it with a first-ball duck. Nottinghamshire matched him in the first over with Patel’s left-arm slows. Patel, a confident fellow, would have relished it. He pulled his first ball down slightly short and Afridi deposited it into the hands of deep midwicket. He does nothing by half.
Christian, Notts’ captain, said: “It was a bit tight especially when James was thrashing us around everywhere. His was a huge wicket. Steven Mullaney was fantastic. He has had a difficult time at Trent Bridge this season with short boundaries and flat pitches and bowling in the middle overs so it was nice to see him get the wickets.”
Vince also felt that Mullaney’s mid-innings wickets had broken them. “It was hard in the middle overs, but they did not lose wickets and we did,” he said.
Hampshire’s threat lies in their trip of spinners. Mason Crane, Liam Dawson and Afridi went into Finals Day with 41 wickets between them as well as economy rates all under 7.5 runs an over. They were again central to their challenge, sharing 4 for 80 in 12 overs. Wessels nearly broke them in making 48 from 27, Patel played them wisely, but on a pitch offering a little grip they completed a job well done.
There is no more dangerous opening combination in the Blast than Nottinghamshire’s Alex Hales and Wessels. Hales, long-limbed and languid, flows into the slightest width. Wessels, squatter and crouched in old-fashioned style, hunts down a bowler in calculated fashion. For both to be silenced at 71 for 3 in the eighth over was arguably damage limitation enough.
The most dangerous, on this occasion, was Wessels, who had just milked Dawson’s left-arm slows for three successive boundaries when he failed to work Crane into the leg side and popped a catch to cover.
Hales made history in the final of the Royal London Cup – his 187 not out was the highest-ever score in a Lord’s final – and had that competition still been positioned at the end of the season, it might have propelled him into England’s Ashes tour party. He still might make it, and claims that his T20 form has taken him to a higher level.
Afridi picked up a catch on the edge of the circle at short third as Hales carved at Chris Wood. The left-armer added Tom Moores in the same manner for nought: the murmurings on the bench of his father, Notts coach Peter Moores, to “watch the ball” going unheeded.
Patel v Crane was cagey, but no worse for that. Crane is no longer the promising ingénue, his leggies now dropped with confidence. Patel is one of the best workers of spin in the country. Crane’s return of 1 for 22 brought him a minor victory, but Patel had eyes for the longer game. Those figures were later matched, somewhat surreptitiously, by the ageless Afridi, revelling in a big occasion – until he self-destructed with the bat.
Patel then struck Dawson down the ground for six, but the next was flightier and wider and Patel, who had made room, sliced helplessly at it like a man about to totter from a high bar.
At 122 for 5 with 27 balls left, the contest was at its sharpest. Christian’s muscular 24 from 12 balls included three sixes in four balls off Kyle Abbott, but his next assault flew flat to cover. Two excellent sides were nip and tuck. All that was clear at the interval was that it was anyone’s game – and it turned out to belong to Notts.