ANDREW GALE’s insistence that Yorkshire were “massive underdogs” going into the knockout stages was more of a statement of fact than a pre-emptive excuse.
The county’s first team coach was without six key players for this quarter-final play-off: Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett and David Willey due to England’s one-day series against Australia, and overseas player Cheteshwar Pujara due to India’s Test match against Afghanistan.
But what Yorkshire lacked in star quality they more than made up for in fighting spirit, beating an Essex side missing, by comparison, only suspended captain Ryan ten Doeschate and injured pace bowler Sam Cook by 25 runs.
Victory earned a semi-final against Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl on Monday as Yorkshire chase their first appearance at a Lord’s final since 2002.
“It was a fantastic win, particularly considering all the players that we’re missing,” said Gale, who expects Yorkshire to be similarly depleted on the south coast.
“But I kept saying to the lads, ‘Why not? Why not?’, and we showed tremendous character to get the result.
“We’ll be underdogs down at Hampshire again, but we’ll approach it exactly the same way and see where it takes us.”
Underdogs they may have been, but Yorkshire were always confident of springing a surprise at a ground where they won at the corresponding stage of the competition three years ago.
But they made a sticky start after captain Steve Patterson won the toss and chose to bat on a day mostly blessed with glorious sunshine.
Tom Kohler-Cadmore was trapped lbw by Jamie Porter to the game’s second ball, and the visitors slipped to 5-2 when Harry Brook fell to the 10th delivery, playing on to Matt Coles as he tried to hit through the off-side.
Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance steadied things with a stand of 40 in nine overs before Lyth uppercut Porter straight to third man.
Porter, bowling well from the Hayes Close End, struck again three balls later when he pinned Jonathan Tattersall lbw with one that kept unreasonably low.
At 45-4 in the 11th over, Yorkshire needed a productive stand from somewhere, and they duly got it courtesy of Ballance and Jack Leaning. Both worked the ball around wisely, using their experience and taking any boundary opportunities that came along, while always mindful of the damage already inflicted in the wickets column.
That damage should have increased when the score was 92-4 in the 23rd over, however, but Ballance was dropped on 43 off his own bowling by Neil Wagner, the New Zealand left-arm quick, in what was, in hindsight, a decisive moment.
Leading edges are never easy for bowlers to take, with quick adjustment often needed in the follow-through, but it was an opportunity that Wagner should have taken – and he knew it too, with his body language failing to betray his frustration.
Not until the score reached 174 was the fifth-wicket stand broken, Wagner eventually getting his man when Ballance edged behind as he attempted to cut.
Ballance top-scored with 91 from 113 balls with seven fours and a brace of sixes off Ravi Bopara, one scooped over the wicketkeeper’s head and the other launched high over mid-wicket. Having added 129 with Ballance in 28 overs, Leaning went on to reach 57 – made from 91 balls with five fours – before falling lbw to Simon Harner as he played across the line.
It needed an aggressive, momentum-changing seventh-wicket partnership of 71 in 8.1 overs between Tim Bresnan and Matthew Fisher to get Yorkshire up to a competitive 259-7, Bresnan striking 41 from 32 before being bowled off the final ball and Fisher hitting 35 from 29, Porter the pick of the attack with 3-25 but inexplicably bowling only nine of his possible 10 overs.
Essex lost two quick wickets in their chase, Alastair Cook skying wastefully to mid-off, and Tom Westley unluckily run-out at the bowler’s end when Ben Coad deflected a drive from Varun Chopra on to the stumps.
Chopra gave it away himself when he swept Karl Carver to deep mid-wicket, leaving Essex 59-3 in the 18th. Patterson trapped Dan Lawrence lbw and then had Ravi Bopara caught at deep mid-wicket, the hosts sliding to 89-5 at halfway.
Yorkshire’s bowling was accurate and disciplined, exemplified by the frugal Bresnan and Fisher, and Essex’s cause – already hopeless – was effectively over when Patterson bowled Ashar Zaidi round his legs.
The hosts slipped to 138-7 when Harmer chopped on to Carver, and to 159-8 when Fisher bowled a swinging Coles.
Adam Wheather fought something of a lone hand, scoring 78 from 70 balls with five fours and two sixes, before Patterson bowled him aiming across the line on his way to 4-36.
Fisher finished the job by bowling Wagner for 35 from 46 balls.
Tickets for Yorkshire’s Vitality T20 Blast match against Lancashire at Emerald Headingley on August 9 have sold out.