Nottinghamshire 165 for 0 (Hales 83*, Nash 74*) beat Middlesex 160 (Morgan 53) by 10 wickets
A bleak season at Trent Bridge might yet have something to redeem it. Seemingly doomed to relegation in the County Championship, thrashed here at the semi-final stage in the One-Day Cup, Nottinghamshire inflicted a humbling on Middlesex that no one could have anticipated to reach a third Vitality Blast Finals Day in four years.
Middlesex, after such an impressive start, may have only just scraped into the quarter-finals, but with AB de Villiers and Mujeeb Ur Rahman back in tandem and Eoin Morgan threatening to cap off his own outstanding year, this was a moment in which they gave themselves a real chance. And 160, to which Morgan contributed 53 off 31 balls, did not seem a terrible score.
Yet they were utterly demolished. Alex Hales, taking another step towards redemption, smashed 83 off 47 balls, sending seven sixes soaring into the night sky. Chris Nash, given his first outing of the season after being surprisingly preferred to Joe Clarke, hit 74 from 53.
Middlesex dropped key catches, putting Nash down on 31 on, Hales on 47 and 56, but after they had been 76 without loss in six overs, a target of 161 that looked likely to be a challenge to a Nottinghamshire side with no reputation for fortitude this summer suddenly seemed rather modest. At the same stage - or rather, just one over later - Middlesex had been four down for 44, with de Villiers already gone.
"We had talked all year about trying to play the perfect game," the Nottinghamshire captain, Dan Christian, said. "About trying to take early wickets, restrict them in the middle, have a good death period, get off to a good start with the bat and try to cash in and, well, it was just about perfect."
Hales smote three of his sixes in that dramatic opening passage, which began with Nash clipping Mujeeb's opening ball for four and continued with boundary after boundary, a dozen in total. Mujeeb, normally so hard to get away at the top of an innings, went for 31 in his first two overs.
The first dropped catch, which should have been so easy for Steven Finn at mid-off, allowed Nash off the hook on 31. The others, by Toby Roland-Jones at deep midwicket and Steve Eskinazi at deep backward square, should have been held as well but whether they influenced the outcome was doubtful. With plenty of batting to come and the target already within reach, Middlesex's fate was probably irreversible.
Hales and Nash were past 100 by the ninth over, with the luxury of coasting through the middle overs before launching another assault that saw Hales demonstrating the full range of destructive shots that make him such a formidable opponent in this form of cricket when the force is with him. Fittingly, his seventh six, a howitzer blow deep into the crowd at deep midwicket, ended the match.
With Morgan, the man who seemingly was central to dashing Hales's World Cup dreams in such a brutal manner earlier in the year, standing just a few yards away, it must have felt a sweet moment.
"I think that was him back to his best," Christian said. "He has played some really important innings for us this year but that was the best. We saw him hitting top-of-the-stumps balls back over the bowler's head, which is what he can do."
Five of the six completed group matches on this ground this season were won by the team batting first, yet Nottinghamshire this time decided it suited them to chase and as Middlesex stumbled to 43 for 4 in the seventh over they appeared to have made a good decision.
Spin was the effective weapon as Nottinghamshire made these early incisions. Matt Carter, the tall offspinner, took two wickets in his second over, Paul Stirling picking out deep midwicket before Dawid Malan, taking a big stride down the pitch, was bowled.
Imad Wasim, left-armer, did likewise in his second, dealing the visitors a major setback when de Villiers, looking in ominously good touch when he strong-armed Harry Gurney to the boundary in the previous over, launched a muscular slog-sweep directly into the hands of Ben Duckett, a foot in front of the boundary at square leg. Eskinazi, attempting to scoop the next delivery down the leg side, made poor contact and was caught behind. John Simpson kept out the hat-trick ball.
Much now rested on Morgan to reproduce some of his heroics of Taunton last week as Middlesex, their form having faltered after a blistering start in the South Group, pulled off that astonishing record run chase to qualify for the last eight.
With the scoreboard showing 66 for 4 at the halfway stage, he went on the attack, going inside out to send Samit Patel six rows back into the seats at extra cover before pulling the same bowler high over midwicket in the next over. Simpson found Hales at long-on a couple of balls later but he and England's World Cup-winning captain had added 47 in six overs.
Simpson's replacement with Roland-Jones brought no loss of momentum and for the first time Middlesex looked capable of posting a score they might defend, not least when Hales, at long-off to Gurney, could only palm the ball over the rope with Morgan ready to turn towards the pavilion.
Morgan profited from the reprieve, but not heavily, completing a 30-ball half-century by taking another maximum off the next ball, but slicing the one that followed to be caught at wide third man. Only a couple of overs remained in the innings but it may have cost Middlesex 20 runs.
As it was, on a ground which has seen lower scores this season than have been customary, 161 to win looked much more of a test than it proved to be, thanks to the brutality of Hales and Nash.
"I think pretty much everything that could have gone wrong for us did," Middlesex skipper Malan said. "We lost wickets at crucial times and to be 40-odd for four was not good enough. Getting 160 on the board, we thought we had a slight sniff if we bowled well enough at the top but they batted so well we were behind it from the first six."