Flower guides Essex to trophy triumph
Essex 218 for 5 (Flower 70*, Joseph 3-40) beat Kent 214 (McLaren 63, van Jaarsveld 58) by 5 wickets
For two sides possessing such hulking heavyweights as Graham Napier and Justin Kemp, the final of the Friends Provident Trophy appeared destined to offer big runs and lavish hundreds. And yet for all the power contained Essex's lineup, it was left to Grant Flower to guide them home with a pitch-perfect 70, beating Kent by five wickets.
It was the second occasion this season that Kent have reached a final yet finished as losers. Middlesex beat them in the Twenty20 Cup, a result which deflated the usually indefatigable Robert Key, and again today they were outplayed from the outset at a packed Lord's.
Six years ago, the domestic 50-over final was the peak of a county cricketers' season. And although Twenty20's attitude has seeped into batsmen's mindset in 50-over cricket on occasion, the 2008 final was as much a throwback to the dusty old days of low-scoring one-dayers. And no bad thing that was, either.
With Essex chasing what appeared to be a straightforward 215, Kent had fought back impressively to leave them on 161 for 5, still needing 54. The catalyst for this comeback was Robbie Joseph, the young Antiguan-born fast bowler in whom Kent have invested so much time, who produced the sort of blistering spell his supporters know he is capable of. Reintroduced into the attack after a wayward first over conceded seven, he trapped Ravi Bopara leg-before with a quick off-cutter and then caused Alastair Cook embarrassing indecision trying to pull, and then cut. The result was a bottom edge to short extra cover, and Essex had lost two of their big guns.
At last, however, Flower found a similarly determined team-mate in James Foster to keep things under control, and the pair put on a patient 68 for the fifth wicket. With Azhar Mahmood and Yasir Arafat out of the attack, Key turned to Darren Stevens and Ryan McLaren who both bowled tidily enough, but their lack of venom allowed Foster and, in particular Flower, to keep the scoreboard ticking. Nurdles through midwicket, cheeky paddles down to fine-leg and a sweetly timed four off Stevens' gentle drifters kept Essex and they never needed more than a vaguely-testing five-an-over.
Foster, to his own outrage, fell to a loose flap outside his off stump - Joseph's third wicket - but Flower soon stepped up another gear, reaching 50 from 73 balls and lofting Joseph over extra cover. Ryan ten Doeschate played a vital and infuriating role at the other end, running Kent ragged with daring singles out to cover, and he was typically elegant to anything minutely straight, turning them through midwicket with ease. Yet it was Flower who appropriately sealed Essex's win with a clout over midwicket, and Kent's 30-year wait to win a Lord's final continued.
"That was the epitome of a team performance," Mark Pettini, the Essex captain, said. "Grant Flower stood out in the run chase, but the rest of the day was all down to the fight from the team. It turned out to be a nice toss to lose. My team were absolutely fantastic. We knew Kent would come hard at us, and the guys rose to the challenge really well."
If Flower sealed the win, then it was Essex's bowlers who set up the victory-charge. Renowned as a frighteningly powerful striker this season, Napier has been more consistent with the ball than in years gone by, and bowled a fine opening spell alongside David Masters to upset Joe Denly and Key's natural free-flowing partnership.
On 7, Key tried to force Masters off the back foot but could only edge him behind to Foster, standing up to the stumps, who took an effortless snaffle - as is now expected of him. Martin van Jaarsveld, evergreen at 34 and the tournament's highest run-scorer, nearly fell for nought lbw, but the same bowler found one to cut back sharply on Denly and bowl him through the gate.
Essex were in business and had restricted Kent to a distinctly tepid 31 for 2 after 10 tight overs. Nevertheless, van Jaarsveld had his fellow South African for company, Kemp, and the pair set about calming Kent's evident nerves with a patient, nurdling partnership of 39. It couldn't last, however, and an equally frantic cut off Masters, whose unerring line outside off was a testament to the underrated control he has offered Essex this season, sent an inside edge cannoning into his stumps. Kent had slipped to 58 for 3.
Panic set in, aptly demonstrated by Stevens' fraught swipe off Chris Wright. Geraint Jones, meanwhile, threatened briefly with two crunching cuts before he was trapped by Danish Kaneria. Essex were on top through a disciplined bowling performance, but the shot selection from Kent was much less restrained.
van Jaarsveld brought up yet another fifty from 68 balls - his third this season, in addition to four hundreds - but fell shortly afterwards to an outstanding catch by Cook, sprinting back from midwicket. And it was left to McLaren to salvage something for Kent, working balls through midwicket; back-cutting to the wider deliveries offered by ten Doeschate and nudging through the gaps with a coolness of temperament that his top-order team-mates lacked. His 63 was too little, much too late.
As a hefty contingent of Essex fans roared their side on with victory in sight, Flower lofted the winning runs to seal their first Lord's final since the B&H Cup in 1998. The 50-over lark may lack Modi's millions, but Essex's triumph was no less sweet.
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo