Ashar Zaidi smashed a spectacular 59 not out from 24 balls to speed Essex Eagles to a five-wicket win against Middlesex at Lord’s which all but sees them qualify for the one remaining quarter-final spot available from the NatWest T20 Blast’s south group.
With 37 still needed from the last three overs, and Essex’s top order failing to spark before a 26,336 floodlit crowd, Zaidi proved to be the man for the occasion as he single-handedly took the Middlesex attack apart in a thrilling finish in which he hit five sixes and four fours. The left-hander, signed from Sussex last winter after three largely anonymous seasons on the south coast, had warmed up by hitting leg-spinner Nathan Sowter for a six and four in the 11th over.
But a match reduced by rain to 16 overs per side was won when, after Dan Lawrence had fallen for a 34-ball 36 to leave Essexx 90 for 5, Zaidi swung and swiped Ryan Higgins for six and four in the 14th over before launching a memorable assault on Toby Roland-Jones in a penultimate over that cost the fast bowler 20 runs.
There were two more Zaidi sixes off Roland-Jones, high over the legside field, and a four cut through gully. Then, in a last over which had begun with just four more runs required, and with the scores level, Zaidi finished things in style by lofting Steven Finn’s third ball straight into the Pavilion for his fifth six. Earlier, Middlesex had reached 126 for 5 with Dawid Malan ending up with 68 not out from 51 balls, with two sixes and three fours, as he batted through the innings.
Essex’s chase began badly, as Jesse Ryder skied the third ball of the opening over to mid off as he tried to launch off spinner Ollie Rayner over a ring field. Tom Westley, after one regal off drive against Finn, then swung Roland-Jones to deep mid wicket on 6 to leave Essex 10 for 2 in the third over. Nick Browne, having swung and straight driven Roland-Jones for fours to end the five-over powerplay, missed a sweep to be leg-before for 15 to Sowter’s second ball and Ravi Bopara was run out for 4 in a mix-up with Lawrence. The match became a 16-overs-per-side contest when rain prevented a start until 7.20pm and Middlesex, put in, were given a solid base by Malan and Nick Gubbins who added 49 before Gubbins, on 13, speared Lawrence’s off spin to long on. James Franklin, George Bailey and John Simpson all managed to biff boundaries before falling cheaply to lofted drives into the deep, while Higgins tried a curious reverse flip to the first ball he faced, from Graham Napier, and was bowled by a full length delivery on off stump. Malan, anchoring the innings well with a mixture of big hits and clever deflections, thumped Ryan ten Doeschate’s medium pace straight for six and also pulled the last ball of the 13th over, from Bopara, high over the mid wicket boundary. Late acceleration was provided by Roland-Jones, who drove powerfully straight for fours from the first two balls of the final over, bowled by Napier, and 14 in all came from those last six balls to boost the Middlesex total. But it was all ultimately in vain, thanks to Zaidi’s heroics.