Yorkshire hold nerve to inflict Essex's latest near miss
Yorkshire 252 for 9 (Leaning 72, Plunkett 49*, Topley 4-56) beat Essex 232 (Westley 54, ten Doeschate 52, Plunkett 3-58) by 20 runs
The sight of Yorkshire, with their England contingent back in tow, arriving at Chelmsford for a Royal London quarter-final did Essex no favours in an uncomfortable season in which Paul Grayson's future as coach hangs in the balance. The upshot of a fiercely competitive tie was a fourth quarter-final defeat in two seasons to encourage the narrative of an Essex side that never quite delivers.
Yorkshire got home by 20 runs in a match that was much closer than the margin suggests. Their 252 for 9 was par at best, and even that required a transformative, unbroken last-wicket stand of 50 in 34 balls between Liam Plunkett and Matthew Fisher at a time when Grayson must have felt Essex were strong favourites to secure their first 50-over semi-final since 2008.
Plunkett's stern-faced muscularity was witnessed firstly with the bat - a bullish, unbeaten 49 from 32 balls with Jamie Porter the chief target - and then with the ball as he recovered from early punishment, much of it met with a haughtily disapproving sniff, to return 3 for 58 in a single spell in which Yorkshire's stand-in captain, Alex Lees, dared to bowl out his fastest bowler in search of much-needed wickets and was rewarded for his enterprise.
Essex looked down and out at 129 for 5 when Bopara, edging one slid across him, became Plunkett's final victim, but Ryan ten Doeschate and James Foster evened the tie once more with a stand of 59. Will Rhodes, the former England U-19 captain, dismissed both, ten Doeschate falling at long-on with 47 needed, but even then Yorkshire knew they had little licence for error.
"Once again we have fallen at the quarter-final stage and that has to be a great disappointment - not just for me and the players, but for our supporters," ten Doeschate said. "We felt on top for much of the game." Lees called Yorkshire's score "a fighting total," a relief after losing the toss on a nibbly pitch but well below what they envisaged at 163 for 3 with 16 overs remaining.
It was uncertain which Yorkshire would pitch up at Chelmsford - the Yorkshire who stand 30 points clear in the Championship with a game in hand, or the Yorkshire who fell so far below expectations in Twenty20 that they finished second bottom, never had the luxury of a settled side and responded by blooding youngsters with a vengeance. In the end, they fell somewhere in between.
The first stage of Yorkshire's innings was a procession to the wicket of slightly damaged England batsmen, regretting a summer that had not quite gone according to plan. Adam Lyth was an Ashes winner but barely averaged double figures in the series and had drawn a line by pouring out his regrets on Facebook; Gary Ballance had been dropped after two Tests, his back-foot play analysed as critically as if it was the Retreat from Mafeking; Jonny Bairstow had re-established himself but then, to the shock of many, he had been omitted from the ODI squad where he had made such an impact against New Zealand.
Broken, not so; dented, without question. All made starts, all failed to deliver a matchwinning innings. On a slow pitch, they were given a sounding out by Essex's medium pacers, who found the assistance that Essex had anticipated upon winning the toss. Pretty much every club in England has a bowler of the pace of David Masters, now in his 38th year, but like many before them Yorkshire never quite came to terms with his nibbling seam and he completed his 10 overs off the reel for 28.
Lyth dragged on Porter as he tried to pull a slower ball; Bairstow was undone by the wiles of Jesse Ryder, who wanders up to the wicket with the insouciance of someone taking an empty glass back to the bar before heaving strong shoulders into the ball; and Ballance followed, the wiles this time bearing the mischievous outlook of Bopara.
It could have been worse. Lyth and Ballance narrowly avoided run outs and Ballance escaped when Reece Topley, diving close to a pitch mat at short midwicket, allowed the ball to spill from his grasp, a fact confirmed by the TV umpire.
Topley's most costly drop, though, was that of Jack Leaning, who has grown in stature this season while Yorkshire's England trio have been otherwise engaged. The subsidence to 202 for 9 was damaging enough - six wickets lost for 39 in 11 overs with Rashid's attempt to get off the mark with a six over midwicket the most outlandish contribution - but without Leaning's 72 from 99 balls, his fifty brought up by flaying Porter over mid-on for six, the collapse could have been terminal.
Topley silenced him with a skied pull into the deep, one of four wickets in a decent bowling night ahead of what he hopes will be an England T20 debut against Australia in Cardiff on Monday. His languid left-arm found swing with the new ball and his back-of-a-hand delivery offers solid variety in the later overs.
Essex's innings had early misfortune when Tim Bresnan ran out Mark Pettini, backing up, in his follow through, but they rallied with a second-wicket of 97 in 16 overs between Nick Browne and Tom Westley, the latter producing a half-century replete with handsome drives until Plunkett struck his stumps.
The plucked-out stump that stuck in the mind, though, belonged to Ryder. Few cricketers play the game in such a relaxed fashion, but when Plunkett, from around the wicket, followed a delivery that whiplashed back into him with one that held its line to uproot his off stump, his look of befuddlement was proof of the quality of the delivery.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps