Cricket

Cox leads Worcestershire to title glory


T20 BLAST 2018

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Cox completed Worcestershire’s victory with a pulled four over backward square leg off Archer to spark wild celebrations as the players ran onto the pitch. © Getty

If you want a life of glitz and glamour, you probably shouldn’t become a county cricketer. More often than not their work involves long days of hard graft in front of a smattering of spectators, lots of time spent on the country’s motorways and it certainly won’t make you rich. But there are fleeting moments of glamour to be had and for Worcestershire’s players, today is about as good as it gets. On Finals Day, in front of a packed Edgbaston crowd, they defeated Sussex to become Vitality T20 Blast champions.

Ahead of the showpiece occasion of the white-ball season, Worcestershire stalwart Daryl Mitchell said that, if he was pushed to make a choice, he would prefer winning this trophy to avoiding Championship relegation. It was an understandable answer when you consider that for many players outside the international game, opportunities to play in finals, to win trophies, to bask in the limelight are often few and far between. And how Worcestershire deserve their moment in the sun.

Their victory in the final on Saturday (September 15) was built on a fine bowling performance with captain Moeen Ali picking up the vital wickets of Luke Wright, Delwray Rawlins and David Wiese and 20-year-old Pat Brown conceding just 15 runs from his four overs. Sussex, who scored 202 in the semifinal against Somerset, always looked light of a winning score by making 157 for 6 and Worcestershire chased it down for the loss of five wickets with their longer batting order being a clear advantage over their opponents.

Sussex had been here before of course, having won the Blast in 2009, but this was Worcestershire’s first appearance at Finals Day. They handled the pressure of the occasion admirably given they were the youngest team on show, particularly after they lost four wickets in five overs. Their victory was also achieved with a swathe of homegrown players such as Brown, Ed Barnard and Joe Clarke which was, at last, fine reward for the club’s development efforts. Ben Cox, another product of the club’s development system, held his nerve in both the semi and final.

Laurie Evans made 52 for Sussex after they had chosen to bat first and although there were other contributors too, only one of the batsmen scored at a strike-rate above 132. That man was Phil Salt who kicked things off with successive sixes in the second over but was then run-out having failed to ground his bat. Evans added 58 with Wright but each time Sussex looked like kicking on, Worcestershire pegged them back. Their lack of batting depth was shown up too as they scored just 25 runs from their final five overs.

Wright was bowled by Moeen and then the spinner had Rawlins caught at long-off shortly after he had deposited legspinner Brett D’Oliveira over the ropes twice. Moeen picked up his third when Wiese was bowled through the gate by a flighted ball which turned sharply. With three overs remaining, and Sussex looking to accelerate to 175, Evans attempted a reverse paddle off Barnard but succeeded only in clipping the ball into his stumps. All of these dismissals killed Sussex’s momentum.

As important as Moeen’s wickets were, the miserly spell of Brown, following on from his four wicket haul in the semifinal, was just as vital, particularly his final two overs at the death when Sussex were looking to accelerate. Mixing up slower balls and knuckle balls with quicker deliveries, the Sussex batsmen just couldn’t get him away. He finishes the competition as the leading wicket-taker with 31 from 16 matches and will surely end up on this winter’s Lions programme.

Sussex’s total was far from a gimme but the silky strokeplay of Moeen and Clarke got Worcestershire off to a solid start, ensuring they didn’t lose early wickets, and the pair then accelerated. Moeen hit Chris Jordan’s first over for three boundaries and they ended the PowerPlay 53 without loss. Next over, Moeen smacked spinner Danny Briggs over the midwicket fence for his first six.

Briggs responded with the wicket of Clarke and Tom Fell went in the next over off Will Beer which seemed to give Sussex hope. When D’Oliveira was dismissed three overs later, stumped off Briggs, Worcestershire were 80 for three and stuttering. Ten runs later, Moeen, who had until then looked in dreamy touch, smashed Beer to long-off where Salt took a fine, diving catch. It was anyone’s game.

But whereas Sussex’s lower-middle order failed to propel them to a decent score, Ross Whiteley, Barnard and Cox, who made a half-century in the semifinal, saw Worcestershire over the line with nine balls to spare. Cox, who hit two sixes in his 46 not out, is rightly regarded as one of the country’s finest glovemen but his undervalued batting prowess and calmness under pressure was on full display today. As much as Moeen and Brown, this was Cox’s day.

He sealed Worcestershire’s victory with a pulled four over backward square leg off Archer to spark wild celebrations as the players ran onto the pitch. It was a richly deserved win and a heartening one for a club doing things the right way. Sussex would have been worthy winners too but there will be few who will begrudge Worcestershire their day in the sun. What a day it has been!

© Cricbuzz

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