Yorkshire 172 for 6 (Bairstow 68, Miller 47, Styris 3-22) beat Sussex 136 for 8 (Nash 80*, Bresnan 2-22) by 36 runs
Jonny Bairstow was shunned by England for the first ODI against South Africa on the same ground 24 hours earlier and he made the decision look distinctly dubious as another ebullient innings swept Yorkshire to a 36-run victory against Sussex in the first semi-final on Friends Life t20 Finals Day.
England had opted instead for Ravi Bopara, immediately brought back into the side after a leave of absence because of personal problems, but Bairstow reasserted his reputation as one of the most exciting young strokemakers in the country with 68 from 48 balls as Yorkshire secured a place in the Champions League in South Africa in October. Mike Yardy, Sussex's defeated captain, called it the best innings against his side this season.
Not until the departure of Scott Styris, though, did Yorkshire, relishing their first Finals Day after a decade of unfulfillment, dare to believe that victory was theirs. Styris equalled the third fastest t20 hundred in history, an unbeaten 100 from 37 balls, as Sussex overcame Gloucestershire in the quarter-finals and, 37 or not, it has given him a heightened reputation. Even Gordon Gecko, the corrupt financier played by his lookalike, the actor Michael Douglas, in Wall Street, never saw his stock rise as unexpectedly as this.
When the offspinner, Azeem Rafiq, kept his nerve and Styris holed out at long off, the entire Yorkshire side ran to congratulate the fielder. Even Ryan Sidebottom, who needs to preserve energy these days, managed a determined 100-yard jog. Sussex still needed 91 from 41 balls and with Styris gone, and five wickets remaining, the game was up. It is hard to recall many occasions when a Yorkshire side has fielded with more intensity.
Chris Nash with 80 not out from 58, manfully tried to hold Sussex together. His ramp shot operated efficiently throughout, particularly against Sidebottom, and when Sussex faltered - with Moin Ashraf's control of the block-hole ball outstanding - it was primarily because he was starved of the strike.
Only one another Sussex batsman made double figures as Yorkshire played with concerted aggression and concentration. Luke Wright, back in England's World Twenty20 squad, had departed by the end of the Powerplay, Wright dragging on against Sidebottom and Matt Prior failing to bulldoze Bresnan over mid-on.
"Another not out for Nashy on the telly," Yorkshire's fielders chortled as the pressure built on him, but if it was a good sledge it was an undeserved one. When he slogged desperately at a full toss, Sidebottom's diving deflection ran out Will Beer at the non striker's end. It summed up his lot.
Yorkshire's top order was suppressed by Styris, a T20 itinerant these days, who broke his journey back from New Zealand with two appearances for Kandurata Kites in the Sri Lanka premier League and who opened up with 3 for 23 in four overs to give Sussex the edge. He even included a maiden, only the fourth in ten years of t20 finals day.
His longevity would not so long ago have been viewed as unlikely, his pace so sedate these days - around 65mph - that he was no faster than the left-arm spinner, Mike Yardy, who was bowling darts at the other end. But he was straight and accurate and that was enough to lead Yorkshire into early indiscretions.
Andrew Gale tried to chip Styris down the ground as he targeted leg stump, but got no further than mid on. Phil Jaques was bowled, his frustration evident in a Jos Buttler-style paddle sweep. As for Joe Root, his method of transforming himself from a lightly-built and technically-correct championship opener into a t20 threat was to unveil a varied collection of sweeps, the last of which failed to connect with a Styris full toss as he fell lbw.
Bairstow then took matter into his hands. If the first half of Yorkshire's innings belonged to Sussex, the second half belonged to Bairstow; 61 runs came by midway, 111 thereafter. He whistled Styris over square leg for six, whipped Nash's offspin over mid wicket for another six and in between batted with impressive range of stroke and placement. A considered recovery partnership with David Miller, who was equally forceful until he fell for 47 at long-off, flat-batting Nash, was worth 82 in 10 overs.
"After a sticky start we needed someone to play well to get 150-plus," said Andrew Gale, Yorkshire's captain. "But this guy is in the form of his life at the moment, playing well under pressure. The Champions League is where we want to be, but when you get to the final you don;t want to come away as losers."
Yorkshire were grateful that the England eventually released Tim Bresnan, on the grounds that he had done little more than loaf around during a rain-ruined ODI against South Africa on the same ground 24 hours earlier.
But it should not be up for debate. Finals Day is the showpiece of the domestic calendar and release of England players should be automatic. It should be automatic, too, for semi-finals which are quite attractive enough on their own accord to be played as separate entities. If the fixture list does not allow this then change the fixture list.