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Air Jordan finds the hang-time as Cox serves up a night to remember

The future is bright for 20-year-old matchwinner after starring with bat and in the field

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Jordan Cox leaps to intercept the ball over the boundary and relay it back to Matt Milnes  •  PA Images/Getty

Jordan Cox leaps to intercept the ball over the boundary and relay it back to Matt Milnes  •  PA Images/Getty

Two sharp intakes of breath were enough to confirm this was something special.
Lewis Gregory's dismissal in the Vitality Blast final against Kent will go down as 'c Milnes b Stevens' but few wickets have ever been done less justice by a scorecard. Relay catches have become a familiar sight in top-level T20 cricket to the extent that there is now a sense of surprise when they are not taken but Jordan Cox's moment of skill and perception on the deep midwicket boundary in front of the Eric Hollies Stand at Edgbaston will go down as an all-timer.
The remarkable thing about Cox's effort was that rather than an attempted catch then a lob back it was something different altogether: a perfectly-placed parry, off-balance and mid-jump, straight into Matt Milnes' hands. His celebration betrayed his own disbelief, gawping in shock as he was swamped by his team-mates. Ebony Rainford-Brent delivered the killer line on commentary: Air Jordan had lift-off.
Few sporting events missed a crowd more acutely than T20 Finals Day amid the pandemic last year, a boisterous end-of-season celebration reduced to a sodden October letdown in front of hordes of empty seats. This was a moment that deserved the response it got: a collective gasp from 23,500 people as they witnessed an outrageous feat of brilliance, followed by another when the replay on the big screen confirmed what they had seen was real.
"I can't say I practise that much," Cox said afterwards. "I think that's from my youth days when I used to be a goalie. Playing T20 cricket, everyone tries to do that sort of fancy stuff. Today it hit the middle of the palm but tomorrow it might have clipped the finger and gone for six. It's about the effort you put into it: I put 100% into it and if it didn't come off, everyone would have said 'great effort' so it was a win-win."
Sam Billings, who stormed out to deep square leg from his position as keeper in celebration, insisted: "He's being too humble. He does practise a lot and he's our gun fielder. He's done probably five different catches similar to that over the season. Moments like that change the game and a bit of magic, both with the bat and then in the field, that was the difference tonight."
Cox's brilliance was all the more remarkable for what had come before. He had fallen victim to a bizarre loophole in the laws three overs before, taking a clean catch in the deep to dismiss Will Smeed only for Daniel Bell-Drummond to collide with him while in contact with the boundary rope.
After several replays and a long delay, the TV umpire Neil Bainton declared it was six, invoking Law 19.5.1: "A fielder is grounded beyond the boundary if some part of his/her person is in contact… another fielder who is grounded beyond the boundary, if the umpire considers that it was the intention of either fielder that the contact should assist in the fielding of the ball."
The decision came as a surprise, not least since Cox had appeared to be in control of the ball and to have completed the catch before Bell-Drummond came crashing into him. It was enough to leave Cox visibly seething, his exasperation still evident three balls later when he took a legal catch to send Smeed on his way - for good, this time.
While Cox's efforts in the field will be the abiding memory of his night, they should not detract from arguably his most important contribution of the night: an immaculately-timed innings of 58 not out from 28 balls which saw him accelerate in style after a low-key, low-risk start. At 20, he was the second-youngest man to make a half-century on T20 Finals Day, behind Jos Buttler no less, and the youngest to score a fifty in the final.
Cox came in at No. 6 with Kent treading water at 75 for 4 in the 12th over, pegged back after a bright start by Roelof van der Merwe's miserly left-arm darts . The first two balls he faced were dots, the next 15 were either singles or twos. "I was focused on not getting another first-baller," he joked, following his golden duck in the semi-final win against Sussex. "Me and Jack [Leaning] decided just to nudge it around for the first ten and then push on."
He did so in some style: his last 11 balls featured three fours, three slugged sixes, and 38 runs in all. He was particularly brutal on Marchant de Lange, thumping 19 off the seven balls he faced from him including two leg-side sixes. "We thought we'd scrape up to 150 but he got us up to high 160s," Joe Denly said. "He's a phenomenal young talent: keep an eye on his name."
"It's probably the toughest role in T20 cricket on a wicket like that," Billings said. "He made it look very flat. He's played brilliantly all year and incredibly maturely. Sometimes when he hasn't needed to press the button too early, he's taken the game deep and backed himself, and he's got an incredible power game as we saw tonight. It's a credit to the hard work he's put in and he's a seriously talented boy. The most impressive thing was the calmness - a special, special knock."
It has been a divisive summer in English cricket but few would dispute one of the key take-homes from this final: for all its flaws, the domestic system does not suffer from a shortage of talented young batters. At 20, Cox has a first-class double-hundred, a match award in a final and a Blast winners' medal to his name; what lies ahead will be down to him.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98