MICHAEL PEPPER continued his Vitality Blast love affair with the Cloud County Ground before Aaron Beard returned career-best figures as Essex condemned Surrey to a second straight loss.

Pepper took his Chelmsford tally to 304 in six innings – and 386 in total – with a barnstorming 48, while Paul Walter continued his fine form with a 49 as the Eagles soared to 198.

Fast bowler Beard, on just his second appearance of the season, nipped openers Will Jacks and Jason Roy to eventually pick up four for 29 as Surrey fell 43 runs short.

Essex boosted their hopes of securing a home quarter-final, moving to seven wins from 12 matches, while Surrey remain top and will host a home knockout game.

However, having been previously unbeaten in all competitions until they were beaten by Sussex on Thursday night, the leaders have lost some momentum.

Surrey put the Eagles in to bat and had Adam Rossington caught behind in the second over. The first two overs went for only six before Pepper intervened.

He struck 30 from the first nine balls he faced, with just a dot and a single punctuating his boundary blitz.

His hitting paused after a strike to the box, which he never really recovered from as he limped to five more runs before he reversed straight to third – the second wicket in three balls for Sunil Narine.

Essex’s rebuild and second 10 overs were a textbook display of accumulation.

Walter was the chief architect of the scoring with his 49, which included four towering sixes, as he put on 51 with Dan Lawrence and 44 with Simon Harmer.

Reece Topley made sure his former county did not get to 200 as he chipped away throughout and added Walter, Daniel Sams and Harmer to his earlier Rossington dismissal to end up with four for 37.

Beard made an electrifying start as he picked up a yorked Roy, while Jacks – from the ball after selecting a new bat – was brilliantly caught at short fine leg by Tom Westley.

Smith and Rory Burns put on 57 with a low-risk approach while still keeping up with the rate, before Lawrence stuck one through Smith. Burns followed by screwing Beard to mid-on and Narine fired back at Harmer as Surrey lost their way.

Laurie Evans continued the slump when substitute fielder Ben Allison produced a spectacular solo relay catch at wide long-on – Harmer grabbing two wickets in the over to return two for 20. Beard had debutant Tom Lawes skying to mid-on for his fourth.

Sams pilfered Chris Jordan and Sam Cook saw off Conor McKerr as Surrey could only reach 155 for nine.

Essex return to Vitality Blast action on July 1, when they travel south to take on Sussex Sharks at The 1st Central County Ground Hove.