Somerset 337 for 8 (Banton 112, Parnell 3-50) beat Worcestershire 190 (Azhar 5-34) by 147 runs
Just to turn up to the right ground for the Royal London Cup play-offs is enough of a challenge, so hurried is this stage of the competition. To turn up and produce the best score of your county career is even more impressive. Tom Banton did just that and his immensely encouraging 112 at New Road gave Somerset a semi-final berth against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge on Sunday.
There was a good contingent up from the West Country and they revealed themselves with roars of approval in front of the pavilion as Banton reached his hundred, his second of the competition, indeed the second of his life. Worcestershire pulled off county cricket's record run chase in List A cricket on this ground a year ago - 377 against Leicestershire - but at no stage did they come to terms with Somerset's 337 for 8 and crashed to a 147-run defeat.
Their demise was quickened by Azhar Ali, who entered the attack after 25 overs and conjured up 5 for 34 with seven overs of legspin, the forth five-wicket return of his career. He is no mug with the ball, having 12 international wickets for Pakistan and now 130 in all forms of senior cricket, but as he offered up legspinners, googlies and a quicker ball to confound Ross Whiteley, Worcestershire's lower order were blown aside like apple blossom in a mean May wind.
Banton deserves to be prominent in the rush of daring young opening batsmen entering the county game. Warwickshire's Ed Pollock briefly possessed the fastest strike rate in global T20 cricket, although his star has been waning. Philip Salt's blast-offs for Sussex won a call-up to England's T20 squad. Aneurin Donald can benefit from an opportunity at the head of Hampshire's order. But the classiest of them all appears to be Banton.
Like all the starburst openers, with shots bursting to all points, with excitement flaring and dying, Banton tends to be all or nothing. After his maiden hundred against Kent at Taunton last month, he had six scores in this competition of 18 or less. But there was a self-possession about this innings which augured well. He keeps wicket, too, and is keeping no less a player than Steve Davies out of the side.
He might have failed again, escaping two tough chances to Callum Ferguson at first slip, off Pat Brown, the first bursting high through his hands, the second opportunity at ankle height, before he had reached 20. Give him too many chances and, increasingly, the likelihood will be that you suffer. Thereafter, he drove and ramped the seamers with aplomb and swept Daryl Mitchell's offspin without a care in the world. His brother, Jacques, is a member of Worcestershire's academy.
Two successive boundaries against Brown late in his innings were perhaps his highlight - a ramp followed by a flamingo on-drive when he picked with a slower ball with ease: no mean feat as Brown's variations made him the leading wicket-taker in the T20 Blast last summer. He was caught at deep square, attempting a leg-side pick-up against Wayne Parnell, who finished with 22 wickets in the competition in an otherwise moderate display by Worcestershire with the ball and in the field.
County cricket's 50-over competition has been crammed into a four-week period in early season and, although it fits quite naturally into such a time frame, the condensed finale to the tournament does it no favours. Considering that the group stages only finished on Tuesday night, to stage the second and third-placed play-offs on Friday was ambitious to say the least. Worcestershire did well just to make sure the groundstaff put some stumps out.
To make matters worse, the ECB insist on calling the play-offs "quarter-finals", which would properly demand four ties not two, and so confuses everybody. There is no anticipation, no build-up, no interviews, no time for teams to plan or spectators to arrange free days. The fixtures were conspicuous by their absence in at least one broadsheet. The result is reduced attendances and falling interest in a tournament that is patently no longer on the ECB's list of priorities.
Banton was third out with Somerset 203 in the 35th over, Parnell having earlier caught Azhar's inside edge and a restrained innings from Peter Trego ending to an uninhibited pull and another wicketkeeper's catch.
As Somerset wickets began to tumble, it appeared they might not make Banton's innings pay; Ed Barnard held excellent catches at point to dismiss Tom Abell and running in from long-on to silence Lewis Gregory. But the Overton twins teamed up with 32 from the last 16 balls and their dominance was reasserted.
Worcestershire's innings never fired. Riki Wessels drove Craig Overton loosely to point and Tom Fell looked a mite unfortunate to be adjudged lbw to Gregory, the ball possible missing leg stump. Ferguson, the South Australian, had ground to make up after his fielding lapses, only to be run out by Abell's direct hit from point as Mitchell called him for a quick single.
Worcestershire's captain, Brett D'Oliveira, is also having a thin time. He recorded his fifth single-figure score in a row when Roelof van der Merwe turned one to strike his off stump. He allowed his legspin a solitary over which cost 12 and seemed to jar a shoulder in the field. His Championship place is far from automatic in this form.