Hampshire 179 for 6 (McKenzie 79*, Patel 3-26) beat Nottinghamshire 178 for 7 (Patel 60, Maxwell 3-36) by four wickets
Hampshire will have an opportunity to win their second Friends Life t20 title in three seasons after a dramatic victory over Nottinghamshire sent them to a third consecutive Finals Day. Neil McKenzie, who had been woefully out of form in the competition until this evening, was the man largely responsible for squeezing an improbable victory from a match that appeared to have slipped away from them, finishing 79 not out from 49 balls.
The 36-year-old South African - Hampshire's star when they beat Somerset in the final two years ago - stole the glory from Samit Patel, whose 60 and three wickets looked likely to be the match-winning performance after Hampshire began the 17th over still needing 46 runs with six wickets down.
But against a relatively inexperienced Nottinghamshire attack, lacking the injured Darren Pattinson and, of course, with Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann unavailable, McKenzie and his captain, the equally wordly Dimitri Mascarenhas, found a way to do what was needed.
This was despite McKenzie pulling up lame after two balls of the final over, requiring James Vince to run for him with 11 still needed off what remained. Remarkably, he hit two consecutive fours on one leg, before more confusion ensued with the next ball. Carter's attempt to run out McKenzie's runner at the non-striker's end failed, even though he hit the stumps, but his effort to hit the other set kept the ball live and allowed Mascarenhas to get back for a second.
This levelled the scores, which meant that McKenzie had only to survive the last ball to win the match on fewer wickets lost. In the event, he pushed the ball through the infield and it ran away for four as Nottinghamshire accepted their fate. Hampshire know already they will face Somerset in their semi-final in Cardiff on August 25.
It was tough luck on Nottinghamshire, who wound up relying on 23-year-old Andy Carter and 21-year-old Jake Ball to bowl under enormous pressure at the end. Neither has the benefit of many games under his belt and Ball - nephew of former England wicketkeeper Bruce French - had only bowled one over in the format before this match.
McKenzie had stepped up the pressure by lifting Harry Gurney over the leg-side field into the Fox Road stand for six and Ball went for 11 in the 18th over, although it was by no means a poor one. Merely Mascarenhas had too much know-how.
Another six off Gurney by McKenzie in the 19th effectively swung the game Hampshire's way, leaving a heavy responsibility on Carter that ultimately proved too much.
Nottinghamshire could not quite believe how the match had slipped away from them, particularly after Patel's third over had claimed the wickets of Sean Ervine, well caught on the boundary by Alex Hales, and the dangerous Glenn Maxwell, who was stumped second ball. At that point, Hampshire were 78 for 5 in the tenth over, still 101 short of their target, and with Jimmy Adams, James Vince and Simon Katich all out of the picture too.
As Patel ecstatically celebrated his third wicket, when Liam Dawson fell for 30, to another catch in the deep in the 16th over, the odds still seemed to be stacked in the home side's favour. But McKenzie, whose six previous innings in this year's competition had netted 47 runs in total, had other ideas.
Nottinghamshire's total had taken some hard work to accumulate on a pitch offering little pace on to the bat. They had started badly, losing Hales to the second ball of the match, which was a bit of a comedown after the 99 he made for England in the Twenty20 international against West Indies in front of a similar crowd on this ground last month.
The setback was corrected, after a fashion, as Riki Wessels launched an extraordinary assault on Mascarenhas that yielded 18 runs from the first four hits of the second over before the next flew up in the air and landed in the hands of Danny Briggs at third man.
Sanity returned in the third over and on a surface that was exploited for the most part pretty effectively by Hampshire's bowlers, particularly Dawson and Briggs, Nottinghamshire never enjoyed another over so productive. Briggs conceded only two boundaries in his four overs and the wicket of Adam Voges in the last of those was richly deserved.
To anyone in the crowd of 11,127 who had seen Scott Styris blast Sussex into Finals Day on Tuesday evening, Michael Lumb's 39 off 32 balls and Voges's 33 off 26 probably seemed a little pedestrian. Fluent strokeplay was never easy, however, and it was telling that the four overs immediately after the Powerplay phase added only 23 runs.
By that point, 80-3 after ten, Nottinghamshire had suffered another blow when James Taylor cut the offspinning allrounder Maxwell's second delivery straight to the fielder at point.
In the circumstances, Patel's 60 off 33 balls was all the more commendable. Lumb departed off the second ball of the 11th over, caught at point off Mascarenhas, but Patel and Voges added 60 off the next seven overs, with Patel the first batsman to start finding the boundaries with the frequency needed to put pressure on the bowlers. There were no hugely high-scoring overs but after Voges, who was dropped by Maxwell at long-on on 23, ultimately holed out to long-off, the last two overs put on 30 runs, of which 17 came from Patel, who cleared the ropes for the only time in the 20th over before he was out attempting to do so again.