LUKE Wright produced an incredible innings as he smashed an unbeaten 153 from 66 balls to lead Sussex to a seven-wicket triumph over a shell-shocked Essex side at Chelmsford.
It represented the highest score in domestic Twenty20 cricket, eclipsing the unbeaten 152 by Essex's own Graham Napier when the sides met on the same ground six years ago.
Wright's astonishing effort contained 12 fours and 11 sixes, the last of which came off Napier to equal his mark, and he followed it up by pushing the all-rounder for a single to set a new record.
Sussex looked down and out in the face of a daunting target of 226 when they arrived at the five-over mark with only 48 on the board and two wickets down.
They lost another soon afterwards, that of Harry Finch, but then Matt Machan joined Wright in a partnership that yielded 159 runs in 12.1 overs.
Wright had a packed crowd taking evasive action as he repeatedly sent the ball into orbit, with none of Essex's six bowlers able to stem the flow of runs.
Wright's heroics came after Chris Nash was bowled by David Masters without a run on the board and Napier had breached the defences of Craig Cachopa with the total on 14.
Essex must have thought then that they were poised for an easy triumph but the brilliant Wright had other ideas. Machan was content to play the supporting role in the unbroken fourth-wicket stand, although his 41 came from only 26 balls.
It must have all left the table-topping home side wondering what they had to do to finish victorious after Tom Westley and Jesse Ryder had helped post what had appeared a winning score.
Westley struck a competition career-best 109 not out from only 58 balls after arriving when Mark Pettini was run out by Cachopa from short cover with a direct throw in the opening over.
Westley was soon making the Sussex attack pay dearly for some wayward bowling as he struck five sixes and 12 fours, reaching his half-century and moving into three figures with strokes that sailed high into the packed crowd.
Earlier this month, he had struck 105 against Kent in the same competition but it was Ryder who set the tone for the onslaught. The New Zealander followed three successive fours in Matt Hobden's opening over with three sixes in the fast bowler's next as he went on to complete his half-century from just 21 deliveries.
New Zealander Ryder went on to make 75 from just 37 balls which included eight fours and four sixes before he was caught on the long-on boundary off the bowling of Nash. He and Westley had put on 124 in only 11 overs as skipper Nash also used six bowlers in a vain attempt to stop the flow of runs.
Following Ryder's departure and the cheap dismissal of Ravi Bopara for four, skipper Ryan ten Doeschate came in to smash 30 from 15 balls, 20 of them in boundaries, in an unbroken stand of 75 with Westley from 32 deliveries.
That included 52 from the final three overs to set Sussex a daunting task but it was a target that the Sharks achieved with some degree of comfort as they eased home with nine balls to spare thanks to Wright's phenomenal innings.
mfl Page 2: 21:45 Luke Wright said: "It was one of those nights when everything clicked. Faced with such a big total, we had licence to go after it and thankfully, everything seemed to come from the middle of the bat "My biggest disappointment is that we have not qualified for the later stages of the competition but full marks to the side, they showed great character and of course the victory was highly satisfying.
Essex head coach Paul Grayson said: "All credit to Luke Wright, he played an amazing innings. I felt that Tom Westley and Jesse Ryder were outstanding with the bat for us but they've been outdone by Luke tonight. It was a brilliant wicket and we tried everything with the ball but he was brilliant."