Essex 132 for 5 (Zaidi 59*) beat Middlesex 126 for 5 (Malan 68*) by five wickets

A staggering innings by Ashar Zaidi that defied both Middlesex, and more pertinently a tired Lord's pitch, carried Essex to a crucial victory to keep their hopes of a top four finish and a place in the quarter finals alive.

Zaidi hit nine boundaries, four fours and five sixes, in just 24 balls--one fewer than Middlesex managed in their entire innings--transcending the conditions to score 59 not out and single-handedly propel Essex beyond their target of 127 in a 16-overs-a-side match.

Zaidi, who has been a key player in Essex's T20 campaign, scoring 357 runs at a strike-rate of 167 and bowling economical overs, scored 38 off the last 9 deliveries he faced to reduce an equation of 37 runs required off 18 balls to a victory with three balls remaining.

The 18th and the 19th overs of the run-chase brought 14 and 20 runs respectively--the first and second most expensive overs of the match as Zaidi launched his assault. Zaidi combined raw power with intelligent sweeps to do what no other player in the match could do and find the boundary with regularity.

Truth be told, Zaidi's pyrotechnics aside this was a disappointing evening. In yet another week in which incessant debate about the structure of England's domestic T20 tournament overshadowed the actual cricket, a frenetic finish to a tight match failed to mask the reminder that whatever the make-up of the competition if it is played on tired, tacky pitches it is unlikely to be much of a hit.

Exactly a week ago for a televised match in front of a record crowd Lord's got things so right. Seven days later, again for a televised match and in front of a near-capacity crowd, things were just a little underwhelming in a 16-over-a-side contests.

Lord's is uniquely positioned in that it hosts so much cricket that preparing consistently good pitches can be a challenge, but for the richest cricket club in the world it is a challenge that should be overcome.

It is not that the cricket was not skilled - if anything playing on pitches such as this, where the ball doesn't come onto the bat, where cross-batted shots aren't rewarded and where edges don't fly for six demands more of a player than truer pitches - but they are skills that you suspect a big mid-week T20 crowd, even at the Home of Cricket, find harder to appreciate.

Essex, who won the toss, opted to field, possibly due to the forecast rain, which proceeded to fall shortly after the toss and delayed then shortened the match. Middlesex, having picked two spinners, said they were happy to bat first but in the end the clarity provided by a run-chase on a pitch such as this probably gave Essex the edge.

It was perhaps revealing of qualities that should have caught the eye of England's selectors that Dawid Malan was the only Middlesex player who could cope with a pitch that required more than clearing the front leg and swinging. If it wasn't for him they may have struggled to make three figures.

Essex deserve credit for bowling intelligently, especially in the Powerplay when they used the large boundary towards the Tavern Stand by bowling lines to suit and Middlesex, Malan aside, struggled to mount a response.

For the twenty or so overs between the end of Middlesex's Powerplay and Zaidi's assault there was a similar and underwhelming theme. The pitch was slow, the bowlers bowled tight lines, cutters and slower balls as the batsmen swung too hard, too often and were rarely rewarded.

The defeat for Middlesex prevents them a home quarter-final but if this pitch is anything to go by, then that should be a relief for everyone.

Freddie Wilde is a freelance T20 journalist. @fwildecricket