One of the great games as Patel, Mullaney nail record chase
Essex were in the box seat after hundreds from Alastair Cook and Ryan ten Doeschate set Nottinghamshire 371 in the Royal London Cup semi-final, but hundreds in return from Samit Patel and Steven Mullaney won one of the great games with three balls left
Nottinghamshire 373 for 5 (Patel 122*, Mullaney 111, Porter 3-56) beat Essex 370 for 5 (Cook 133, ten Doeschate 102*) by five wickets Scorecard
This was an enthralling game, deserving the accolade as one of the finest one-day matches in the history of English domestic cricket. It fell to Nottinghamshire who pulled off a record county cricket run chase by overhauling a target of 371 with three balls to spare and who reached the final of the Royal London Cup in the process.
But how Essex played their part. It felt like Alastair Cook's match when they rattled up 370 for 5, Cook's limited-overs pedigree never more apparent in making 133 from 128 balls. It felt even more Essex's game when Ryan ten Doeschate, their captain, smashed an unbeaten 102 from 66 balls.
Instead, hundreds in reply from Samit Patel, who would have needed life support on standby if he had batted on much longer, and Steven Mullaney, matching what ten Doeschate had produced before in a classy retort which insisted he must be termed "unsung" no longer, squeezed Nottinghamshire into the final at Lord's where they will face the winners of Saturday's semi-final between Worcestershire and Surrey.
Their chase surpassed Hampshire's 359 for 8 against Surrey at the Kia Oval in 2005 when Australian Shane Watson opened his shoulders.
County cricket struggles to gain attention these days. But this was exceptional, a feast of entertainment, a reminder of the quality potentially on offer on England's professional circuit when the best players are released from an overblown international circuit which has long become too repetitive for its own good. It challenged those English cricket lovers whose eyes never stray below the international game and then it challenged them again.
A record 185-run fifth-wicket partnership in 24 overs between Patel and Mullaney helped carry Nottinghamshire home on a day when 743 runs were scored for the loss of only 10 wickets. They had begun in gung-ho fashion, 80 for 3 in 9.2 overs, all of the wickets to Jamie Porter, with Essex arguably one more wicket away from killing the game.
Essex's hopes flared again when Patel, who majors in hangdog shoulders even when creaming the ball to all parts, was involved in the run out of Brendan Taylor for 62. He did little wrong, striking the ball square on the off side, screaming "no" more than once but finding Taylor alongside him: the same Taylor whose 154 at Taunton had carried Notts to 429 a few days earlier, among the highest domestic scores in history. Not a man to stay in your crease for, even if you were as blameless and talented as Samit Patel.
It was a burden he shouldered admirably, finishing triumphant with 122 from 123 balls, helped by a marginal third umpire's decision on 81 when Ravi Bopara fell agonisingly short of claiming a diving catch from ten Doeschate's first ball.
Mullaney's breaking of the offspinner, Simon Harmer, early in his innings was a crucual moment. He grabbed the chase by the scruff, a fifth six, over long-on off Bopara, bringing up his first List A century before he fell, for 111 from 75 balls, attempting to uppercut Neil Wagner and caught behind. Wagner had been untidy in his new-ball spell, but not to complete his allocation felt unwise.
That left six from nine balls, with Patel told by Mullaney to get the job done. Two desperate edges in the final over from Paul Walter sufficed, the first causing ten Doeschate to yank his hat over his head in disbelief, the second settling it. "You need a little bit of luck and I rode it a bit," said Patel, glowing with magnificent near-exhaustion.
All of which meant the story changed, because before then it was all about the irony. England crash out of the Champions Trophy and almost immediately the most high-profile batsman they rejected on the way to inventing their brave new world plays one of the limited-overs innings of his life.
Cook, still a stalwart in the Test format, last played an ODI for England before the last World Cup where their approach was deemed so outdated that it tipped them into a new positive approach under Eoin Morgan which won such acclaim that they were regarded as a strong chance to win their first global 50-over trophy… until it all went wrong against Pakistan in Cardiff.
Cook will have shared England's disappointment. He does not do grudges. But he is capable of meaningful displays of his own prowess. It is what makes him such a fierce campaigner. As he came within four runs below his highest one-day score, he was at his most fluent, a high-class Nottinghamshire pace attack repelled. Ten Doeschate, the Essex captain, then came in at No 5 and struck around him with upright power.
Cook played at a canter. Square cuts and nudges off his hips came with absolute certainty. A late dab off Mullaney to reach 50 displayed finesse. Stuart Broad, an England team-mate, taunted him with no mid-off - he rarely drives down the ground - and Cook, 77 by then, took a boundary with a smile. He repeated the shot against Broad for his hundred, mid-off now in place but to no avail. He fell to a slog sweep against Patel, eight overs from time, the ball not quite up for the shot.
It took ten Doeschate to bring a capacity crowd at Chelmsford to its feet, taking three sixes off Harry Gurney in the penultimate over. Seventy-two came off the last five overs. It felt like a matchwinning phase. It turned out to be nothing of the sort.