Essex 119 for 2 (Buttleman 56*) beat Surrey 118 (Cook 4-15) by eight wickets
Ah, the summer solstice was upon Merrie England, the day when the sun is at its highest in the sky and in olden days at least festivals filled the land. Except, "Freedom Day" had been delayed for a month so no one was much in the mood for partying and hardly anybody saw the sun, certainly not in Hampshire where the World Test Championship final remains a bedraggled affair, nor in Kennington, where the T20 Blast began late because of a wet outfield and some spectators were keeping warm under blankets.
Essex, though, marked the occasion with a spot of mischief, inflicting Surrey's first defeat of the season. Track back a week and form suggested they might have been pulverised by a full-strength Surrey on a flat Kia Oval track. But this was a weakened and distinctly off-colour Surrey, and Essex benefited from first use of a bowler-friendly surface. Surrey fell for 118 with three balls of their 17 overs unused before Essex knocked off the runs in practical fashion to win by eight wickets with nine balls to spare.
In 2019, Essex started slowly in the group stages and went on to win the trophy. They don't inspire much belief that they are capable of a repeat, but they have at least stemmed the bleeding. They came to The Oval with one win in six - an opening-night defeat of Somerset at Taunton - and only 24 hours earlier, they had reached their nadir, a 67-run defeat against Kent at Canterbury during which they conceded 236 for 3 - Kent's highest-ever Blast score. The win takes them off the bottom of South Group.
This was the sort of Blast tie that is not about to improve the UK's flagging exports figures - the sort of match that would not create much interest beyond these two old rivals. But Will Buttleman, one of three wicketkeepers in Essex's top four, could take pride in his maiden Essex fifty in a career now five T20s strong, plus a solitary first-class appearance at Headingley when he helped Essex avoid a follow-on by blocking for 0 off 37 balls. Now there's an innings to confuse a T20 algorithm.
Buttleman's most impactful boundaries came at the top of his innings - a slog-swept six against Dan Moriarty and a rasping straight drive against Will Jacks. He settled further with three boundaries in a tentative first over from Jade Dernbach, 35 now, and playing his first match of note since the Caribbean Premier League in September 2019. After that, it was just a matter of staying sensible.
Rikki Clarke had some of Surrey's best moments, such as they were. His 20 runs had included an exquisite check-drive over long-on for six against the wild-haired Shane Snater. His catch at short extra to dismiss Adam Wheater, and end Essex's opening stand of 67, was a remarkable effort, diving low to his right to slip a couple of fingers under the ball.
Surrey were not just without their England short-form contingent - the Curran brothers and Jason Roy - they had also lost Laurie Evans to a stomach bug. But Essex still needed an immediate boost and the fall of the toss provided it. Typically for The Oval, spinners predominated (even part-time ones) but Sam Cook was comfortably the standout seamer as he swung the ball to return 4 for 15.
By the end of the Powerplay (reduced to 5.1 overs) Surrey had lost 3 for 39. Both Essex's new-ball spinners struck with their first ball. Hashim Amla holed out helpfully to the first ball of the match, picking out short extra as the left-arm spinner Aron Nijjar tossed up an inviting delivery outside off stump. Jacks fell to Dan Lawrence's first ball at deep midwicket. Jamie Smith was Cook's first victim, bowled by one that swung back sharply.
That left an odd couple as far as Surrey T20 was concerned: Rory Burns, seeking solace after England's Test series defeat against New Zealand, and Ben Geddes, who first played for Surrey at Under-9s level and who was making his debut at 19. Burns found no release as he hooked Cook's bouncer to midwicket, but Geddes, although he mustered only two boundaries, scrapped his way to 28 from 21 balls.
When Lawrence found turn to have Jamie Overton caught off a faint inside edge, Surrey' looked to the Clark/Clarke combination for an escape route. Jordan Clark was bullish, although he might have been caught on 12 - Ryan ten Doeschate never locking on to a difficult over-the-shoulder catch at deep mid-off - and would also have been run out on 22 if Simon Harmer's throw had struck the stumps.
It required something special for Surrey to escape, but Clark picked out long-off and Essex, a side who before Buttleman's half-century, had made only one individual fifty in the Blast this season, had a target well within range.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps