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Feature

Nathan Ellis on final-over drama: 'It was a little bit of cat-and-mouse'

"I was conflicted in my own mind. I knew they were expecting the slower ball, but I didn't know when to bowl it"

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
17-Jul-2022
Nathan Ellis with the T20 Blast trophy, Final, Lancashire vs Hampshire, July 16, 2022

Nathan Ellis with the T20 Blast trophy  •  Getty Images

It is hard to comprehend the contrasting emotions that Hampshire's players experienced at 9.48pm on Saturday night in Birmingham. Nathan Ellis yorked Richard Gleeson and charged towards the Hollies stand, roaring "COME ON!" as he peeled away in celebration. His team-mates sprinted over and engulfed him, and the Edgbaston events staff set off the fireworks to mark Hampshire's record-levelling third T20 title.
And then, umpire Graham Lloyd held his arm out and called them back from the deep-point boundary: Paul Baldwin, the TV umpire, had spotted that Ellis had over-stepped. James Fuller sank to his knees. Chris Wood flung the stump he had pulled out as a commemorative souvenir back towards the pitch. "My heart sank," Ellis said. "All I could think about was the fact that we'd just carried on like that, and I'd carried on celebrating for the last 30 seconds. And now we were in trouble of losing the game."
The equation had shifted into Lancashire's favour. With two runs awarded for a no-ball in English domestic cricket, they needed only two runs off the last ball to lift the trophy by virtue of a higher powerplay score. After James Vince, Hampshire's captain, delivered a team talk, Ellis stood at the top of his mark and tried desperately to clear his mind enough to make a decision as to what he should bowl.
"I hadn't bowled a slower ball to him [Gleeson]," he explained. "My thought process was: 'what's the best way to try and get a play-and-miss?' That was it. Once I'd made that decision, it was just try and execute." His back-of-a-length, back-of-the-hand slower ball flew past Gleeson's outside edge, bounced over the top of the stumps and through to wicketkeeper Ben McDermott on the half-volley.
Despite Lancashire's protestations, Hampshire celebrated for a second time. Ellis finished wicketless but his spell, conceding 23 runs from his four overs, must rank among the best none-fors in T20 history. Even before closing out the win (at the second attempt) he had conceded only nine runs across the 15th and 17th overs as Lancashire froze in their chase; all told, he bowled 10 dot balls and conceded a single boundary, which came during the powerplay.
Ellis' strategy at the death was a microcosm of the planning behind modern T20 cricket, and illustrated the unique challenges of the Blast's Finals Day. After winning their own semi-final at the start of the day, Lancashire had watched Hampshire beat Somerset immediately before the final; Ellis realised that they would have seen how many slower balls he had bowled during his spell of 3 for 30.
"It was a little bit of cat-and-mouse," he said. "I was conflicted in my own mind. I'd bowled three on-pace attempted yorkers and I knew they were expecting the slower ball, but I didn't know when to bowl it. I was fully aware that I'd bowled a lot of slower balls in the semi-final earlier in the day, and aware that they [Lancashire] were probably watching."
Ellis is shorter than most fast bowlers and has a whippy action, bowling at good pace from tight to the stumps. His back-of-the-hand slower ball, honed playing Sydney club cricket for St George, is difficult to pick since the seam stays upright throughout and he has been a revelation for Hampshire, conceding just 6.87 runs per over across the season.
He was only their fifth-highest wicket-taker, with 15, but his death-over economy rate (6.61) was the best in the competition by a distance. "My role I've played in T20 cricket has never been as a wicket-taker," he said. "It's not something I even think about or look at: it's probably more damage control or defend. Those moments to me are way bigger than wicket tallies or anything like that. If we get the win, I couldn't care less."
"The way he regrouped and then his confidence to go to that slower ball in that situation… he's executed so well at the death so a lot of credit has to go to Nelly," James Vince, Hampshire's captain, said. "All the other guys were there spectating on the off-chance it came to them but for him to re-group and have the ball in hand and be as calm as that was outstanding. He's played a bit for Australia, but I'm sure he'll play a lot more."
Along with McDermott, his Hobart Hurricanes team-mate, Ellis was signed on the back of his BBL form which Vince has experienced as an opponent, playing for Sydney Sixers. "We've got a good relationship with George Bailey, the Australian selector, from when he played at Hampshire," Vince said. "Although there was [Australia] A cricket and other squads going on, we had good confidence that we'd have him for the whole competition. That makes a big difference."
Ellis was a travelling reserve when Australia won the T20 World Cup in the UAE last year and will now come into consideration as a squad option for their title defence in October - particularly if he can secure a replacement deal in the Hundred and continues to impress in that competition.
But those thoughts can wait. Finals are not about the future, but the unfiltered emotion of the present. And as Ellis, still in his full kit and wearing a Hampshire bucket hat, sat in the dressing room with his team-mates deep into the small hours on Sunday morning, he was left to reflect on the surreality of a final that he won twice

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98