TOM Abell and Lewis Gregory staged a whirlwind stand of 60 in 30 balls as Somerset launched the defence of their Vitality T20 Blast title with a thrilling four-wicket victory over Essex at the Cooper Associates Ground.

Abell top-scored with 55 from 36 balls and Gregory smashed 44 from 22 deliveries as Somerset reached their target of 194 with five balls to spare in a repeat of last year’s final.

Tom Banton, Will Smeed and Sean Dickson also made useful contributions to give a sell-out crowd an evening to remember under the Taunton floodlights.

Banton displayed aggressive intent by driving Aaron Beard over long-on for six and then collecting sumptuous cover-driven fours at the expense of Daniel Sams and Ben Allison.

Smeed pulled Allison to the boundary and then mustered a brace of sixes in plundering 20 from Paul Walter’s first over and Dickson brought up three figures with a straight-driven six off Matt Critchley.

Playing against his former county, Essex batter Dean Elgar top-scored with 77 from 51 balls on his return to the West Country, accruing eight fours and two sixes and sharing in stands of 67 and 58 with Adam Rossington and Jordan Cox for the first and third wickets respectively as Essex posted 193-6.

Rossington contributed 32 and Cox 30, while Gregory returned figures of 3-42 off four overs in what was an excellent individual performance with bat and ball.

It was the perfect start for the defending champions, who have now won their last nine matches in the short format, while Essex have work to do after losing their opening two matches.