• Rapids chase down Sharks’ 157 with nine balls to spare
• Cox smashes winning runs and finishes 46 not out
Given the day out had begun almost eight hours previously, it was a show of restraint that we were a full 15 minutes into the final before we saw the first conga line. A similarly disciplined Worcestershire bowling performance meant the Finals Day debutants were crowned champions of the Vitality Blast, chasing down Sussex’s 157 with nine balls to spare.
A mixture of captain Moeen Ali’s guile, Pat Brown’s bowling variations and Ben Cox’s confidence with the bat saw Worcestershire’s young team prevail. Sussex, who had knocked out Somerset in the semi-finals with an explosive 202, threatened but could not capitalise. Their first 50 came off 46 balls, their next off 24 balls, but the final 50 off 41 as Worcestershire wrestled the lid back on the Sussex innings just as it was about to ignite.
Finals Day is notorious for its atmosphere and when the Kiss Cam fell on a masked Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, love was in the air and world peace seemed suddenly possible. If the crowd was in the right mood, it appeared at first that the Sussex opener Phil Salt was too. This season he has been Sussex’s most destructive batter and he showed early signs of continuing with two consecutive sixes in the second over.
It was a shame Salt’s running between wickets was not as finely tuned as his power hitting and he was run out shortly afterwards. Despite being at least three feet over the crease following a quick single, Salt had neglected to ground his bat or feet as a Brett D’Oliveira throw clattered into the stumps.
As Salt cradled his head in his hands, Luke Wright and Laurie Evans set to work. It is testament to the skill with which Brown bowled his many variations that his two powerplay overs went for just six runs. The experience of Wright in his 300th Twenty20 game did little to help decipher them. With four wickets in the semi-final and 31 across the Blast, it is no coincidence the 20-year-old has the second highest number of wickets achieved in any season throughout the history of the competition.
Ben Stokes had tipped Moeen to lead his team to glory in a tweet shortly before the final. With bat (41 off 21) and ball (two for 16) Moeen had proved in the semi-final he was more than capable. The final appeared less a new game and more a smooth continuation for him.
Bowling with the control and calm which is becoming a hallmark of his captaincy, Moeen accounted for three of Sussex’s top five. Wright fell for 33 and although Evans managed 52, it came at the expense of 44 deliveries. Worcestershire’s control was the difference, Brown ending with 13 dot balls from his four overs, which ultimately went for only 15 runs.
“I think it will take a little bit of time to sink in,” said the injured Worcestershire player Daryl Mitchell. “But the way that we have played our white-ball cricket over the last few seasons was building up to this.”
“Amazing young kid,” Mitchell said of his teammate Brown. “I think he will just go from strength to strength on the back of this. We’ve played a long time, you’ve got to enjoy these moments.”
Five overs into Worcestershire’s innings and the focus was back on Moeen, who became the first player in a Blast Finals Day to score 50 runs and take five wickets across the day. By the time he fell for 41 in the 12th over he had scored 82 runs and taken five for 46 across the day.
Victory was by no means a done deal and it took a nerveless 46 not out by Cox to add to his unbeaten half century in the semi-final to seal things. Brown, caught on camera in the dugout mouthing “I cannot cope” in the game’s final stages, was not the only one watching through his fingers.
“It was actually not as close as I thought it was going to be in the end but I thought my heart was going to stop,” Brown said. “For a little county like Worcestershire to come up and play with the big boys is unbelievable.”
While the Rapids may have been the novices on the Finals Day stage, by the time “Hey Jude” rang around the ground in the penultimate over it was Sussex who were crumbling under the pressure. Jofra Archer, such a potent force in Twenty20 cricket, conceded the final 17 runs needed off the over’s first four deliveries and Worcestershire, the underdogs, the neutrals’ favourites, were crowned champions.