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Match Analysis

The best team in English T20 gets its crown

Nottinghamshire can accommodate a specialist batsman at No. 8, and still have six bowlers of varying styles who can bowl four overs each. Those resources, along with smart plans, fetched them their first Blast title

Jarrod Kimber
Jarrod Kimber
Dan Christian lifts the T20 Blast trophy  •  Getty Images

Dan Christian lifts the T20 Blast trophy  •  Getty Images

The ball goes for six, and clears the rope by 25 metres, but the batsman is disappointed it hasn't gone as far as he wants it.
Andrew Flintoff is doing a segment on Sky with Jos Buttler about how six hitting has changed. The reason he's disappointed is that the boundary at Trent Bridge is so incredibly small. Like the kind used in women's cricket. South Africa opener Lizelle Lee would mishit sixes here.
It is on this ground, with its batsman friendly pitch, that Nottinghamshire are outstanding. They dominate games at home, where runs have been made at a faster clip than anywhere else in the world since 2015. This season the run-rate was 10.45.
Nottinghamshire, on their turf over the last two years, have won 10 games and lost three. Other teams mock their small ground and flat pitch, but the thing is, they still have to win there. But finals day isn't at Trent Bridge, it's at Edgbaston, which has a run rate of 7.98.
It's a different game.
Alex Hales is about as scary as it gets in T20 cricket. Coming into the final, cricket analyst Clive Azavedo tweeted that Nottinghamshire as a club had made 1995 runs at a run-rate of 8.6. Hales made 500 of them at 12.40. All tournament long, he has scored more than two runs a ball, he has hit a boundary every 2.53 balls, and yet averaged in the 30s. Against Durham, he made 90 off 30. That was a crime against humanity. He should be locked up, not encouraged.
At the other end is Riki Wessels, who averages 43 with a strike-rate over 150. He is more punchy, a street-smart T20 player. It is an incredible partnership to have at the top of the order, so good that at times the others barely get a hit. Billy Root, Joe's brother, plays as a specialist batsman, and in 10 matches he's batted four times.
In the semi-final, Hales faced only seven balls but sent two of them to the fence. Wessels was around for 26 balls and hit seven boundaries. They combined for 65 runs from 33 balls; Hales 17, Wessels 48.
In the final, these two beasts weren't unleashed, they only scored 26 runs, six of those coming when Hales was caught, but Sam Hain stood on the rope. Tom Moores followed them in; he made a duck in the semi-final, he made a duck in the final.
So after relying on their openers to destroy all season, both of them and their No. 3 were gone with only 30 runs on the board.
In the quarter-final against Somerset, everything went to plan with the ball. On their high-scoring batting paradise Nottinghamshire were left chasing only 151. But, much like they were in the final, they fell to 34 for 3. That is when Samit Patel and Brendan Taylor came together. Notts fans were starting to get nervous, remembering all the quarter-final losses in their past, but Tayor and Patel stopped the carnage, and as they were about to run off with the game, Taylor ran himself out.
They were reunited in the final, and they did exactly the same thing as in the quarter-final. They knocked the ball around, got themselves set, and this time when Taylor didn't run himself out, they batted long. Their partnership just kept getting quicker and quicker, timed like an award winning soufflé or the hero cutting the red wire on a bomb as the timer ticks down to zero.
"We talk about tempo batting," Patel said afterwards, "Working out the right gears, and know when to go and when not to go".
The only problem was that with Dan Christian to come in next, it felt like they might not get the most out of him. A daring team might have flirted with retiring Taylor out, to get the big hitter in, but it would have been hard to tell that to a man who flick-swept Chris Woakes from wide outside off stump past midwicket for four. So Taylor continued until he was out.
Nottinghamshire had taken their total from 30 for 3 to 162 for 4, scoring 132 from 13.2 overs. When Patel and Taylor had got together it looked like the team was in trouble, but by the time their partnership ended, they had all but taken the game away from the Bears. Taylor made 65 off 49, Patel was unbeaten on 64 off 42.
If you are building a T20 bowling line-up, variation and depth is vital. A left-armer and legspinner is dream-team stuff, a fingerspinner who can take the new ball, one bowler with decent pace, and back-up options if it all goes to hell. Oh and a change-up bowler.
This is Nottinghamshire's attack. It is an extraordinary attack, particularly as it spends most of its time getting mishit for boundaries at Trent Bridge.
When they played Hampshire in the semi-final, they probably knew they were 20 or so runs short. And then James Vince came in and made them look horrible.
If they looked at the numbers, and knowing Nottinghamshire they probably didn't, they would have realised that 69% of Hampshire's runs in the last two years have come from their top four. That is extraordinary. And at 97 for 2 in the 11th over, needing only 73 from 57 balls, Hampshire could not be more on top.
But they had already blown an easier chase against a weaker bowling line-up.
Christian could have gone to his quicks, against his game plan, but he backed his spinners and the slow change-ups of Steven Mullaney.
Tom Alsop, who had been Robin to Vince's Batman, faced one of these little cutters - it was only just 60 mph - and he pushed at it to be out caught and bowled. It shouldn't have mattered, but Mullaney then slid one through George Bailey and then Vince tried to flick him away and found deep square leg.
The bowling attack that is so good they left out Stuart Broad, containing an IPL allrounder, a legspinning franchise star, and three England bowlers, ended up winning the semi-final with the slow-medium tricks of Mullaney.
In the final, Mullaney didn't bowl out, Harry Gurney took four, Jake Ball three and Christian the other one. Ish Sodhi and Patel had 31 wickets coming into day; they added one more. Only one Bears batsman passed 30.
The rise of analytics has changed T20 at a rapid rate, but by their own admission, Nottinghamshire don't look at too much footage, let alone go searching for golden data nuggets. Which is funny considering Peter Moores is their coach.
Whether you use advanced metrics or not, you have to build the best team you can. Nottinghamshire is by far the best squad in English cricket. Any team that can afford a specialist batsman at eight, and still have a six-man bowling attack - with all of them capable of bowling four overs - is ridiculously good. It bears repeating: they won Finals Day without Broad.
They also didn't have former World T20 winner Michael Lumb, who had to retire mid season with an ankle injury. He is one of three men who played this season who didn't make it to Finals Day. Nottinghamshire, somehow, used only 14 players all year. Other than a flirtation with allrounder Luke Wood instead of Billy Root, and Luke Fletcher's two games covering for Ball, the team was practically the same all year.
There was quality in every position, and very little uncertainty - only one player sidelined by injury. Nottinghamshire lost their first two games of the season, and then won 11 of their remaining 14.
T20 is simple when you have the best list, get to use them all year, and you stick to a smart basic gameplan.
Two overs earlier, Colin de Grandhomme had nearly cleared the press box at Edgbaston, one of the highest in the world. Mullaney was bowling his slow-mediums, and de Grandhomme got a full, wide half volley, which was just dismissed from the postcode.
Gurney replaced Mullaney and instantly came around the wicket to the right-handed de Grandhomme. This is quite common for Nottinghamshire; they believe in cramping batsmen for room. It's nearly a mantra, their right-arm seamers almost always now around the wicket to left-handed batsmen. CricViz data suggests that coming into finals day Christian bowled 85% of his deliveries from around the wicket to left-handers; Ball 95%
This dogmatic thinking is based on their experience and common cricket sense - that seems to be where most of their plans come from. It stops the arms being freed, clearing the front leg is hard, and the ball just keeps chasing you. Christian has talked before about setting standard fields, bowling back of a length at the body, and not worrying too much about watching video or focusing on the opposition's hot zones. Unless a player ramps, Nottinghamshire don't even worry about changing their core fields.
It is the opposite of funky. The only time, in their three knockout games, they flirted with an unusual field was when Gareth Berg was slicing the ball over deep point in the semi-final. They put in two deep points.
Gurney bowls this cramped line to right-handers only about 50% of the time. But his first delivery back into the spell is back of a length and angled in, de Grandhomme tries to smack it away, but there is no room, and all he can do is drag it back on.
Christian is not a frontline quick for Nottinghamshire, and neither is he a top-order batsman. He has bowled more than last year, largely because his form was so good it would be silly not to use him. And with the bat they decided that he was wasted if he has to come in before the ninth over.
It was perhaps one of Nottinghamshire's few radical ideas: their main overseas player, their captain, regulated to a support role. In the quarter-final, he had an extraordinary game, taking the wickets of the two set batsmen, Steve Davies and Peter Trego, conceding only 23 runs.
Then he came in after Taylor had run himself out, and just watched Patel bat for a while, until he was run-out from a freak bit of fielding. Christian guided them to victory, with a huge six over long-on, and then a short ball outside off stump that he basically put into row 17 with a cut shot that is illegal in parts of South America. That shot ended Somerset's hopes.
In the semi-final against Hampshire, he barely faced a ball when he first arrived, he was there in the 13th over, and by the 17th, he had only faced six deliveries. And former South African quick Kyle Abbott was now charging in.
Christian pulled the second ball for a flat six, flayed a cut shot deep into the crowd, and slogged another one out of the ground. Abbott broke through off the last ball of his over, but by then Christian had already taken 20 runs and turned a mediocre score into one his bowlers could defend.
In the final, Taylor and Patel had done well, but Christian, coming out with 11 balls left was almost perfect. It is the role he plays for Rising Pune Supergiant in the IPL, and right now it is hard to think of many players in the world who can hit a boundary, or boundaries, as often or as early in their innings.
He was two from three when he faced up to Olly Stone for the last over. He swung his bat hard. It wasn't always pretty, but balls fly into gaps. They fly into the fence. They fly into row 28. He finished the day facing six dot balls, hitting two fours and five sixes, scoring at 14.4 runs per over. 48 runs, 20 balls.
But most importantly, Christian took 22 off the last five balls. Nottinghamshire won by 22 runs.
The third ball of that over from Stone was short and wide and as soon as it pitched you knew what was going to happen to it. Christian was going to play his lofted, violent cut, turning into some medieval warlord beheading the invading horde's king. This one sails over the point boundary, the groundsmen, their covers, and about 30 rows of people.
It would have been a six on Trent Bridge's postage stamp, just like it would have been a six on any ground in the world.
Nottinghamshire too would be good on any ground in the world. Compared to other English teams, they are playing a different game, and it is far better.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber