Ravi Bopara cracked a match-winning 36 from 22 balls to see Essex Eagles beat holders Worcestershire Rapids by four wickets and win the Vitality Blast for the first time, appearing in their fifth Finals Day.
On a weary and wearing Edgbaston pitch, Essex appeared in trouble at 82-5 early in the 14th over when chasing 148, but Bopara tonked two boundaries and a couple of sixes, including one off Worcester skipper Moeen Ali beautifully struck over long-off, to help his team to victory.
Eagles skipper Simon Harmer (18no off 7) also played his part, striking back-to-back boundaries off the final two deliveries with five needed. Earlier, as he had done in the semi-final against Derbyshire, Harmer too impressed with the ball on a helpful surface for spin.
His haul of 3-16 took him to a record-equalling seven strikes on Finals Day, with his combined figures of 7-35 the best ever.
Moeen had initially looked to be the match-winner for Worcester, much like last year and in the Rapids’ quarter-final triumph over the much-fancied Sussex this campaign. He top-scored with the bat and then took 2-22 with the ball.
Moeen dispatched two huge sixes into the Hollies Stand on his way to 32 from 26 balls as the defending champs were put into bat first, and then his double strike in the middle overs had Essex stuttering.
But Worcestershire didn’t bank on Bopara and were ultimately denied in their quest to become the first team to retain the domestic T20 crown.
Essex’s earlier decision to bowl first at the toss was initially met with some scepticism after they’d made light work of beating Derby in their semi-final when setting a target.
But Harmer made early inroads, claiming two in two balls, as he’d done in that semi, taking the key wicket of Moeen – chipping back to the bowler – and 2018 Finals Day hero Ben Cox to a desperately dodgy lbw call that he’d inside-edged and was outside the line to anyway.
Wayne Parnell (19) looked to keep applying the pressure as pinch-hitter, taking Aron Nijjar for 10 in two balls, before he too fell to Harmer, while Riki Wessels (31) was prevented from batting through the innings when run out by less than an inch and there was to be no Ross Whiteley (7) big-hitting heroics in the final overs like in the earlier semi.
In pursuit of 146, Essex lost Cameron Delport to Parnell for just one, but Tom Westley (36) helped lead the rebuild, if a little slowly to start with.
Dan Lawrence provided some impetus with 23 from 18 balls, including a lovely straight six off Brett D’Oliveira, but the Eagles suddenly wobbled when Westley top-edged Parnell down to deep square-leg and then Moeen returned to claim Ryan ten Doeschate (1) cheaply and Lawrence, this time holing out looking for another straight six.
But, in came Bopara, who reduced the equation to 12 needed off the final over and was quite fittingly joined by Harmer for the match-winning moment.