The Essex Eagles kept alive their fragile hopes of qualifying for the latter stages of Vitality Blast when they beat Delray Rawlins and his Sussex Sharks teammates by 12 runs for their first win.
Sussex, who chose to field first, were looking to make it five wins out of seven, but were undone by a brutal innings of 81 off 44 balls from Dan Lawrence which was the basis of a challenging Essex total of 197 for five. Lawrence’s first 46 runs were made up entirely of boundaries.
Sussex rarely looked like getting there. With Phil Salt away on international duty (the Sharks were also missing England men Jofra Archer and Chris Jordan), they were very dependent on Luke Wright to give them a good start. But Wright, in prime form in this competition, had made just 20 from 13 balls, with five boundaries, when he got under a drive off Matt Quinn and skied to Simon Harmer at mid-off.
As the asking rate rose to over 11 runs per over Calum MacLeod, swinging across the line, was trapped LBW to Harmer for nine. Aaron Thomason and Rawlins, fresh from a match-winning innings at Canterbury, then took 19 off the 10th over to leave them 83 for two at halfway.
With 93 required off eight overs Rawlins – on his 23rd birthday – picked out his favorite leg-side boundary to heave the first two balls for six. But he was out shortly afterwards, caught at short third man, for a 20-ball 37. And Thomason was caught in the same area for 47 just four balls later as the asking rate crept to over two runs a ball.
With 52 runs need off the last four overs, the game was still in the balance, but Essex old boy Ravi Bopara was caught at long-on in the next over to swing the game in favor of the Eagles. Sussex needed 30 off the last two overs and the match was virtually over when last hope David Wiese hit the next ball from Sam Cook to long-off.
Sussex made a good start to the match, restricting Essex to a couple of runs from the first two overs while dismissing the in-form Cameron Delport for a single.
The Eagles, without Adam Wheater for family reasons, looked up against it. But, perhaps frustrated by recent results, they decided to make the most of a good pitch as Lawrence and Tom Westley put on 118 for the second wicket in just ten overs.
It was Westley who launched the Essex innings, with 16 runs of the third over, bowled by George Garton. But it was Lawrence, driving with immense power, who then dominated the scoring. When the reliable Danny Briggs came on for the fifth over Lawrence hit him for three sixes and a four as he moved to 38 from only 15 deliveries.
He reached his fifty from 24 balls, with four fours and five sixes. At the halfway stage of the innings Essex, on 106 for one, looked capable of a score of well over 200. But the Sharks fought back with three wickets in the space of two overs.
Westley was second out at 120, for a 25-ball 39, and in the next over the violent Lawrence fell to a tame catch to mid-off before Ryan ten Doeschate went for a single. Essex were 150 for five after 16 overs before an unbroken stand of 47 between captain Harmer and Michael Pepper took them close to 200.
After the match Rawlins said, "They set us a pretty big score.
"It was a good wicket but we lost key wickets at the wrong time, just as we were building momentum. We still feel we’re in a good place as a team.
"Aaron Thomason has come in at the top of the order and shown the real depth of the squad with, 40 odd. On another day his shots would have gone to the left or right of the fielders and he would have finished up with 60 or 70, and we win.
"Everyone’s a bit disappointed, but it was always going to be a tough chase.”