James Vince guides Hampshire to semi-finals
Hampshire 154 for 5 beat Warwickshire 153 for 5 by five wickets
Sometimes fortune comes heavily disguised. A few weeks ago, when Hampshire were languishing at the bottom of the County Championship table and struggling for any form of consistency in their limited-overs cricket, many at the club were bemoaning the loss of key players.
Yet, through those absences, a new team has emerged at The Rose Bowl. A team that lacks the ego and baggage of some of the 'bigger name' signings and a team that promises bright times for Hampshire cricket for some time to come.
For it was a team lacking Dimitri Mascarenhas, Nic Pothas, Kabir Ali, Simon Jones, Michael Lumb and Kevin Pietersen that qualified for T20 finals day for the first time after beating Warwickshire at Edgbaston. It was also a team that lacked first choice overseas players, Ajantha Mendis and Shahid Afridi.
Instead it was the likes of Jimmy Vince, Danny Briggs, Michael Bates and Chris Wood that took centre stage. The quartet, three of which are 19, have all graduated through the ranks at The Rose Bowl and won the Under-17s county title in 2007.
Man-of-the-match Vince and Briggs were especially impressive. Vince, playing with a command and composure that belies his years, timed the ball beautifully and struck five fours and two sixes in his 52-ball innings, while Briggs claimed three crucial wickets and bowled with the variation and discipline of a vastly more experienced man. It is, therefore, somewhat ironic that neither men would probably have played in a full strength side.
"We have some fantastic young talent in this side," captain Dominic Cork said afterwards. "It just shows what a lot of hard work the Academy coach, Tony Middleton and cricket manager Giles White have put in over the years. And it shows the vision that Rod Bransgrove, the chairman, has had to put this club together over recent years. There are a lot more young players coming through, too.
"Of course it helps team spirit that these guys have all developed together. Everyone knows one another and there's a great camaraderie here."
The outcome was not as close as the scoreline suggests. Yes, there was only one ball remaining when Hampshire scrambled the winning single but, in truth, the visitors were always in control of this chase. They were the better team with bat and ball. While their seamers hit the pitch hard and maintained a tight line and length, Warwickshire's - with the exception of the admirable Neil Carter - struggled to do either. Briggs also outbowled Imran Tahir, Warwickshire's overseas leg-spinner, in defeating Westwood in the flight, yorking the advancing Barker and luring Maddy into a slog-sweep that landed in the hands of deep mid-wicket. Cork was particularly impressive. After bowling the dangerous Carter in the first over with a perfect inswinger, he returned to bowl an immaculate last over featuring yorker after yorker and conceding just seven runs.
Barker and Maddy prospered briefly. Barker, giving himself room to cut and Maddy driving strongly. But when Barker yorked himself and Troughton was run-out attempting an optimistic single, Warwickshire's innings fell away. The unbroken stand of 58 in 7.3 overs for the sixth-wicket between Tim Ambrose and Rikki Clarke took Warwickshire only to the edges of respectability.
Hampshire were always ahead of the required rate. Jimmy Adams, who became the first man to pass 600 runs in an English domestic T20 during this innings, took four boundaries of Chris Woakes' wayward second over, while Abdul Razzaq struck Imran Tahir's first ball for six. Though Carter was a model of excellence, he lacked support, with the remaining seamers proving ineffective.
This could prove a damaging loss for Warwickshire. Already seemingly doomed to relegation in the Championship, it has only been their limited-overs form that has maintained any form of morale at the club. Though they continue to shine in the Clydesdale Bank 40, the disappointment in the dressing room after this defeat was enormous. It's the sixth time in seven years they've fallen at the quarter-final stage and the third year in succession.
"It's very disappointing," Ashley Giles said. "We were the leading team in the country after the group stages and we had high hopes. But we've just got to get back on the bike and go again. Our confidence has been pretty battered at times this season and at times we got it wrong with the ball this evening. We just have to re-focus."
So, it is Hampshire that will take their place in the final four on finals day on August 14. And, if Bransgrove has anything to do with it, they may yet attempt to send a team to this year's Champions League. Never one to take things lying down, Bransgrove has continued to challenge the ECB's decision not to send teams this year due to conflict with the domestic schedule. It will be interesting to see what happens if Hampshire qualify.