Joe Cooke heroics help Glamorgan trump Essex and reach Royal London final
Career-best showings with bat and ball help see off Sir Alastair and co
Glamorgan 293 for 5 (Ruthreford 67, Cooke 66*) beat Essex 289 (Cook 68, Walter 50, Cooke 5-61) by five wickets
Joe Cooke started the season as a careworn Championship opener trying to make the grade, but life became a far grander affair for him at Sophia Gardens in the semi-final of the Royal London Cup as he summoned the best performance of his life with bat and ball to lead Glamorgan into Thursday's 50-over final.
Cooke's 5 for 61 helped to keep Essex in range at 289 after they had threatened to run away with the match. And after Hamish Ruthreford's explosive retort put Glamorgan in the ascendancy, Cooke, now acquainting himself with No. 7, was a model of sound judgment with an unbeaten 66 from 56 balls as he shared an unbroken stand of 111 in 17 overs for the sixth-wicket with Tom Cullen.
Considering the hold that Simon Harmer's offspin has had upon county cricket in the past few seasons, there could be no sweeter finish for Cooke than to launch him straight for four and six in successive balls to win the match, the winning blow sailing through the trees at the Taff End to threaten the riverside walkers: probably the nearest thing to marketing that the competition has had all year.
Glamorgan's opponents in their first one-day final since 2013 will be determined by Tuesday's semi-final between Durham and Surrey - and Durham must try to negotiate a safe passage without their leading wicket-taker in the competition, Paul van Meekeren, who has a long-standing deal in the Caribbean Premier League with St Kitts and Nevis Patriots and must leave early to quarantine ahead of their opening game on August 26.
The Sophia Gardens pitch appeared to possess two distinct moods, offering excellent batting conditions in the first half of both innings, but then markedly losing pace and bounce as the ball softened to make strokeplay difficult. Essex certainly suggested as much as they lost their last seven wickets for 64 in the last 62 balls.
Cooke scotched that theory. In an unfamiliar role, he met Essex's spinners with composure and when the captain, Tom Westley, finally had to return to seam with 26 needed from four overs, he grasped the moment. Essex were not about to entrust the job to Ben Allison, whose four new-ball overs had bled 46 in the face of Ruthreford's 44-ball 67. Instead, they turned to Jack Plom, but he conceded 16 - 15 of them to Cooke, who began the over by driving a half-volley back over his head and ended it by chopping him over short third for another boundary.
Cooke made a habit of releasing the pressure on himself by taking a boundary at the start of the over, never more evident than when he welcomed the return of Ryan ten Doeschate, 41 now, with a flat bat over his head when 42 were needed off six. Essex did not bowl Paul Walter - only six overs for 59 this season, quite a comedown for an allrounder who once had the Essex sage, Keith Fetcher, purring at his potential.
Perhaps the umpire, Ian Gould, who these days bestrides the county circuit like a latter-day Dickie Bird, but without the engaging histrionics, would have been privately relieved at Glamorgan's victory. It was Gould who inadvertently stopped Cullen's pull shot with his shin at square leg at a critical juncture. At least Gould had the decency to refuse treatment; Dickie would have required a fleet of ambulances and a chapter in his next book.
"It's a pretty cool and special feeling," Cooke said. "Because Hamish scored so quickly, we knew we could keep it ticking over. It was a good pitch and hard to bowl. Some of the good balls were going for four. My first spell with the ball wasn't great and Alastair Cook got a hold of me so to come back with wickets in my second spell was pleasing. I'm enjoying a different role in this team and I'm always in the game both batting and bowling."
Ruthreford, a seasoned campaigner who knew that Glamorgan needed a flyer, and he had to provide it, broke Allison with five successive leg-side boundaries - the last of them clearing the ropes at square leg. There were 23 in all in the over. When Rutherford fell against Harmer at long-on, Kiran Carlson's sparky run-a ball 36 maintained the momentum while Nick Selman batted in the shadows. When Selman was fifth out with 108 still needed, Essex might have imagined themselves slight favourites.
Essex's batters did not do much wrong. In a debilitated competition, it was good to see Alastair Cook's trademark cut shot to the fore as he made 68 from 66 balls before he fell in exasperating fashion, overbalancing to a nondescript leg-side wanderer to be stumped. Essex's two young batters, Josh Rymell and Feroze Khoshi, played their part in setting up the innings, as did Walter's half-century, but the finale was feverish and Cooke's medium pace was the beneficiary as back-of-a-length deliveries brought excessive reward.
The real hero was the old fox, Michael Hogan, whose 10 overs cost 21. There is an imbalance in English cricket between young one-day batters (a veritable plague) and young one-day bowlers. Hogan, true to the verities of the game at 40, is a constant reminder of what can be achieved.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps