Essex (181-7) beat Middlesex (179-6) by three wickets

SIMON Harmer pulled Dwayne Bravo to the boundary from the penultimate ball of this Vitality T20 Blast thriller to give Essex their first victory of the season at Chelmsford.

Essex had made hard work of their three-wicket win after apparently cantering at the halfway stage of their chase after 180 runs.

They started the final over requiring eight runs and had whittled that down to four from three balls and then three from two before Harmer became the hero of a dramatic night.

Middlesex chose to bat but theirs was an innings of fits and starts.

That it finished on 179 for six was thanks to Australian international Hilton Cartwright harvesting 20 off his bat from the last over and a single off his pads.

The innings owed much to a 91-run fourth-wicket stand in nine overs between captain Stevie Eskinazi and wicketkeeper John Simpson.

The batsmen were dismissed inside three balls by Matt Coles, both on 46. Eskinazi faced 31 deliveries with two sixes and four fours and Simpson’s innings lasted 34 with three sixes and a four.

Chasing 180, Essex went off like a train.

They had 47 on the board after four overs and 57 when the first wicket went down an over later.

Adam Wheater had the majority of them, including sixes off Ravi Patel and James Fuller, in addition to seven fours, but departed going for a third maximum when he ballooned to midwicket where Eskinazi pouched the catch.

He had blitzed 45 from just 18 balls.

Wheater almost lost Varun Chopra just before his own exit when his opening partner gave what should have been a routine catch at deep square leg that Cartwright spilled under considerable crowd pressure.

Chopra made the most of his reprieve and when he lofted Fuller over long-off for six, Essex were already more than halfway to their target with only half the overs gone.

Tom Westley joined the party with a switch-hit off Patel for four before being caught on the midwicket fence by Eskinazi for a 23-ball 24 to end a partnership of 52 for the second wicket.

However, two wickets fell in quick succession.

Chopra was stumped by Simpson off Patel for 38 from 37 balls and Ravi Bopara run out by Fuller’s direct throw from mid-off.

When Ryan ten Doeschate was caught in the deep by Fuller, Essex were 31 runs short with three overs to go and in danger of self-destructing.

Dan Lawrence took two thick edges to third man before trying a third and falling to Paul Stirling.

Essex needed 17 off the last two overs.

The late collapse continued when Matt Coles swung at Helm and was snaffled by Patel at short fine leg.

Harmer hit Helm for six to leave Essex requiring eight off the last over.

Middlesex had beaten Surrey in their first game on Thursday night thanks to the efforts of Stirling with bat and bowl.

But the Irish opener lasted just seven balls this time, one of them thrashed conclusively through midwicket for four, before he was deceived by one from Sam Cook that got up and took his glove on the way through to Wheater.

Max Holden, making his Middlesex debut, hit Jamie Porter for three successive boundaries before chipping Harmer to Chopra at point.

Nick Gubbins was Harmer’s second victim and, having just pulled him for six, he gave himself room to sweep and lost his middle stump.

But Harmer went for 22 in his final over, with sixes over long-off by Simpson and Eskinazi, to post figures of two for 43.

The fourth-wicket stand reached 50 in five overs with the pair trading sixes.

Coles bowled a mixed third over, the 15th of the match.

Eskinazi hooked a maximum off a full-toss and then the first free-hit was a wide.

But Coles bounced back, having Simpson caught by Lawrence rushing in from the square-leg boundary, and two balls later Eskinazi chipping straight to Bopara at short cover.

Coles finished with two for 33.

The fall of the brace of wickets put the brakes on the Middlesex scoring, with just 17 runs added in four overs.

Bravo tried to up the tempo with a mighty heave at Adam Zampa, but only edged to Wheater.

However, 21 taken off the last over by Bopara carried Middlesex from 158 to finish on 179.

Cartwright hammered a six and three successful fours in that over on the way to an 18-ball 27.