Gloucestershire 199 for 4 (Klinger 126*) beat Essex 165 (Westley 67*, Smith 5-39) by 34 runs
Michael Klinger returned to English cricket with a bang, smashing a career-best T20 score of 126 not out to lead Gloucestershire to a 34-run NatWest Blast victory over Essex at Bristol.
The 34-year-old Australian profited from being dropped three times to hammer eight sixes and seven fours in a sensational 68-ball innings that enabled the hosts to run up 199 for 4 after losing the toss. Reece Topley escaped the carnage to claim 2 for 28.
In reply, Essex were soon 10 for 2. Tom Westley hit 67 off 39 balls to give them an outside chance and Ryan ten Doeschate contributed 54, but in the end they were bowled out for 165 in 18.4 overs as Tom Smith returned 5 for 39, including a late hat-trick.
The visitors only had themselves to blame for allowing Klinger, who only arrived back from Australia on Thursday morning after a rare break from cricket, to run riot after Hamish Marshall's 16-ball innings of 29 had helped Gloucestershire to 58 for 1 by the end of the six overs of Powerplay.
The home skipper was dropped on 44 by Ryan ten Doeschate at mid-off and on 46 by Graham Napier at long-on from successive Topley deliveries in the 12th over. And he was spilled again by ten Doeschate at square-leg off the same bowler when on 52. Having reached his half-century off 40 balls, Klinger required only a further 21 to reach three figures and then put Napier to the sword in the final over with his final four sixes as 26 runs were added to an already impressive total.
Napier ended up conceding 62 from his four overs as Klinger recorded the highest ever T20 score by a Gloucestershire player. His straight hitting was particularly impressive, but he also survived a straightforward run-out chance on what was definitely his day.
"I haven't slept that well since returning from Australia on Thursday and I needed treatment for cramp at the end after running so many twos, so I'm delighted, but pretty tired," Gloucestershire centurion Michael Klinger said. "Sometimes you need a bit a luck and I had some today. I still have ambitions to play for Australia so I'll be doing all I can to keep piling on the runs over here this summer.
"It was a great pitch and I can't praise our groundstaff too highly. For the team it was a great win over a side who on paper are one of the strongest in the competition. I have returned to find a lot of belief in our dressing room."
The outcome looked beyond doubt when David Payne removed Mark Pettini and Jesse Ryder in the second over of the Essex reply. Westley and Ravi Bopara then added 62 in 6.5 overs before the latter perished to a catch at long-off. Westley eased to an impressive 31-ball half-century, with eight fours, but 112 were still needed from the final ten overs.
Any chance the visitors retained disappeared in the 14th over, bowled by left-arm spinner Smith. First Westley drove a catch to extra cover, having hit nine fours and a six, and he was quickly followed by Kishen Valani, superbly caught by Marshall running around at long-off and just avoiding the boundary rope. The frustrated ten Doeschate responded with the biggest six of the match off Payne, but it was too little too late as James Foster was caught reverse sweeping Jack Taylor with the required run-rate up around 14 an over.
James Fuller had to be withdrawn from the Gloucestershire attack in an erratic 17th over, which featured two no-balled beamers and ended up costing the home side 24. But, despite ten Doeschate reaching a 31-ball half-century, with five fours and two sixes, before becoming the second of Smith's hat-trick victims in the 18th over, it wasn't enough for Essex. Smith also sent back Napier and David Masters, stumped to complete the hat-trick, as the Essex tail folded quickly.
Essex skipper Ryan ten Doeschate said: "We are all very disappointed and to be frank it is our fielding display that cost us today. t is something that has been creeping up on us for a while. You can't give chances to a class batsman like Klinger because he will always make you pay."