ESSEX eased their way to their eighth victory in this year's NatWest T20 Blast, beating Surrey by five wickets to maintain their spot at the top of the table and keep them on course for a passage to the quarter-finals.
In front of a capacity Chelmsford crowd, the hosts won with nine balls to spare, despite a scare in mid-innings when fast bowler Matt Dunn struck twice in an over to remove Ravi Bopara and Mark Pettini after they had shared in a stand of 51 in six overs.
Overall, though, the Surrey bowling proved too wayward to pose many problems as Essex responded to their opponents' 165 for four with 166 for five.
After Jesse Ryder was caught behind from the third ball of the innings sent down by Azhar Mahmood, Tom Westley thrived as he took full advantage of leg side deliveries to hit a punishing 38 from 20 balls with the help of one six and six fours.
Ravi Bopara scored 24 runs and took two Surrey wickets. Picture: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo
His innings was cut short when Kevin O'Brien trapped him lbw, but his dismissal brought in Bopara to join Pettini and they quickly took the game away from Surrey with some fine driving and pulling as the visitors struggled to stem the flow.
They eventually did so when Bopara was removed lbw by Dunn for 24 made from 19 balls, while Pettini was bowled in the same over for 42 from 29 deliveries to leave Essex 108 for four with eight overs remaining.
Then Ben Foakes quickly became another victim of O'Brien, caught and bowled off a skier, but Ryan ten Doeschate took charge to condemn Surrey to defeat after they had gone into the match with four successive victories behind them.
The Essex one-day skipper finished unbeaten with 40 from 32 balls to emerge with the man-of-the-match plaudits.
Tom Curran conceded 34 runs from only three overs, while O'Brien, despite his two successes, went for 32 from his three.
Surrey's total owed much to skipper Gary Wilson who, arriving after the loss of Kevin Pietersen for a single, contributed an unbeaten 63 from 44 deliveries with the aid of six fours.
O'Brien, who twice struck left-arm paceman Reece Topley for six, contributed 33 from 22 deliveries and it was while trying to clear the ropes for a third time against Bopara that he was caught at long-on by Ten Doeschate.
Essex Eagles captain Ryan ten Doeschate scored an unbeaten 40. Picture: Gavin Ellis/TGD Photo
Jason Roy also struck two sixes, both straight drives against fast bowler Matt Salisbury, while making 29 from 24 balls before a wild swish against Bopara saw him lose his off stump.
But it was a night to forget for Pietersen, whose solitary run came from eleven deliveries, his dismissal coming when he was stumped off a wide down the leg side to provide left-arm spinner Tim Phillips with his only success.
A strangely subdued Pietersen had been lucky to survive much earlier in his brief and disappointing innings.
He was almost run out at the non-striker's end before he had faced a ball and was then left doubled-up by a drive from Roy immediately afterwards, but recovered just in time to make his ground .
The Essex attack showed the value of line and length, something that was to elude the visitors in their vain attempt to protect their modest total.
Phillips conceded just 25 in his four over,s while Bopara went for 29 in his allocation that also included the wicket of Roy when he breached the opener's defence.