Nottinghamshire 162 for 7 (Smith 50, ten Doeschate 3-19) beat Essex 123 (Ryder 47, Patel 4-20) by 39 runs
Merely the mention of the phrase "T20 quarter-final" has been enough for Nottinghamshire and Essex to need psychological counselling. When the two English counties who, above all others, have flattered to deceive when it most matters were thrown together in the first NatWest Blast last-eight tie at Trent Bridge something had to give and it was Nottinghamshire who progressed to Finals Day by a 39-run margin.
Such a convincing win looked improbable as Essex set off in pursuit of Nottinghamshire's 162 for 7, but Samit Patel's left-arm slows emphatically turned the tie in their direction, beginning Essex's decline with three wickets in four balls. Patel finished with 4 for 20, his best T20 figures, drawing a standing ovation from a 13,500 crowd at Trent Bridge as he danced around in celebration, a tranquil, barrel-shaped soul as pumped up as at any time in his career.
Add the understated craft of Steven Mullaney and the flamboyant legspin of Imran Tahir to Patel's night to remember and Nottinghamshire's trio of slow bowlers returned figures of 7 for 60 in 12 overs.
Jesse Ryder termed the Trent Bridge surface "one of the best I have batted on this season" - the majority view in the Nottinghamshire dressing room was that they were 10 runs light - and, after riding his luck in the opening over, he punched some glorious back-foot cover drives as evidence in his 47 from 30 balls.
But there were mental gremlins to contend with and, although Essex's opening pair were 62 runs to the good in the Powerplay, dread quickly set in once the spinners took a hold in the middle overs. Suddenly, every dot ball was cheered as the mood of the crowd was transformed in a few overs. Ryder struck 10 boundaries; the rest managed two between them.
Once Ryder had departed, run out backing-up when the bowler, Mullaney, deflected the ball back onto the stumps, Nick Browne's poise departed with him. Browne mishit Patel to long-on, Ashar Zaidi (reminded in no uncertain terms that his black-sprayed bat should not make a reappearance) cleared long-on first ball then holed out against his second, his black bat replaced by black looks. Against the first ball of Patel's next over, Tom Westley was bowled as he made room to a flatter delivery.
Essex were not helped when Dan Lawrence pulled a hamstring in the field, diving in a failed attempt to prevent a boundary, and by the time he came in with a runner, at six down, with 58 still needed from 22 balls, Nottinghamshire were in total control.
Finally, then, relief for Nottinghamshire, who had qualified for the knockout stages in six of the last seven seasons but had lost their last four quarter-finals, all on home turf, including a defeat to Essex three years ago.
But for Essex, the disappointments go on. Their reputation for failing on the big occasion led to the removal of Paul Grayson as coach a year ago: for all their five successive quarter-finals, they had not reached Finals Day since 2013. For some players, such as Graham Napier, who retires next month, and David Masters, the sequence will never be broken. Masters summoned a pre-match speech at Lord's, pronouncing that he was sick of not winning things; Napier summoned an 87mph yorker to bowl Mullaney. Neither did the trick.
There was also an edginess to the first half of Nottinghamshire's innings. Threatened by relegation in the Championship, out of the Royal London Cup, and aware of their tendency to freeze at this stage of the tournament, their emergence as winners of the North Group had not given them a noticeable strut.
Inserted by Essex's captain, Ravi Bopara, they reached the 10-over stage at 75 for 2, their prolific openers Michael Lumb and Riki Wessels both departed. Paul Walter's three overs cost 43 as he lacked the subtle changes of pace of more battle-hardened colleagues, but the young left-armer did prise out Lumb at slip: always something of an event as no county batsman leaves the crease with a haughtier air. Wessels fell to a leg-side pick up against Ryan ten Doeschate, Masters relieved to hold a swirling skier behind square.
Greg Smith kept Notts on course with 50 from 33 balls before he dragged on Bopara, but even Smith carried a reminder of failure on a big occasion, his greatest day in a Notts shirt coming in the semi-final of the Royal London Cup last season when his 124 at the Kia Oval turned a potential trouncing against Surrey into a four-run defeat but defeat nonetheless. The crowd was strangely muted: English T20 crowds do apprehension like no other country.
There are few more seasoned Twenty20 cricketers than ten Doeschate and, at the grand old age of 36, he discovered an appetite for bowling to disguise Essex's frailties, making light of his record of eight wickets in the past two seasons to claim three big wickets - Wessels, Dan Christian and Patel - in a return of 3 for 19.
"I have had a bit of bowling to do because we have been short of overseas bowlers," he said. "We have a very workmanlike attack: two proper bowlers and the rest of us have to be canny and do a lot of thinking." There would have been too much thinking time on the coach journey home.
There are conflicting views a plenty about the future of Twenty20 cricket in England, and they could yet leave blood on the carpet next month, but no matter what side of the debate you are on few could observe events at Trent Bridge without a certain amount of frustration. The same will be true of the quarter-finals to come.
Although a near-capacity crowd had packed into the ground on a sunny, blustery evening, the quarter-finals will be staged without England Test players and with the absence of many of the star overseas players already lost to injury, exhaustion, international call-ups or the CPL. Only those so committed to Test cricket that they actively want T20 to remain downtrodden would view that as a satisfactory outcome.