It pure simple knockout from now on in the Friends Provident Trophy as the race to be this year’s winner hots up.
Essex opted to bat at Grace Road against Leicestershire and were in a spot of bother at 37-3. Ravi Bopara arrived at the crease and played the innings of his life in front of England selector Geoff Miller. He plundered his way to 201 not out, in the process hitting an incredible 18 fours and 10 sixes, as he joined a select group of players who have achieved the feat in fifty over cricket. The prominent support came from another England player who was keen to impress, James Foster, who hit a rapid 61. The Eagles finished up on 350-5, a formidable total indeed. Garnett Kruger (2-70) and Dillon du Preez (2-60) each took two wickets for a rather South African looking Foxes side. In fact there were only four England players on view for the home side, which according to Essex Captain Mark Pettini, made the victory all the sweeter, much to the disgust of the Leicestershire board. In reply, it was two of those Englishmen, Matthew Boyce (57) and the evergreen Paul Nixon (62), who impressed most, each hitting fifty, but it was Bopara (2-34) who again stole the show, taking two wickets, as the Foxes were all out for 232. Alex Tudor (2-38), Graham Napier (2-48) and Ryan ten Doeschate (2-32) were the other major wicket takers.
Play was delayed by a day at Beckenham where Kent eventually took to the field against Somerset, opting to bat first in a match I fancied the winners of to go all the way. They made 259-6, with Captain Rob Key (73) and Neil Dexter (101*) (only in the side because of the absence of Martin van Jaarsveld) scoring the major runs. Ben Philips (2-55) and a miserly Charl Willoughby (10 overs for 24) were the pick of the bowlers. Chasing, Craig Kieswetter hit a well paced 90, but he received precious little support as Yasir Arafat impressed once again with 3-23, Somerset all out for just 222. Kent appear to have the whole package when it comes to limited overs cricket and they remain my pick for the title. They bat deep, with plenty of explosive hitters towards the lower order, have plenty of experienced bowling options, have an excellent captain in Key and they field with energy.
At Bristol Yorkshire opted to field first against Gloucestershire and it proved to be a wise decision as the Gladiators were restricted to 201 all out, Matthew Hoggard (3-26) and Tim Bresnan (4-31) impressive up front in swinging conditions. Gloucestershire were indebted to Chris Taylor (54) and Steve Adshead (71), who managed to forge a total which they had a chance of defending. Yorkshire failed to struggle in reply however, as minus Steve Kirby, Gloucestershire seemed to lack penetration, despite the valiant efforts of Captain Jon Lewis (2-21) and Mark Hardinges (2-36). Craig White’s patient 55, coupled with Jacques Rudolph’s solid 53 not out, was enough to see them home as they made 205-4, Adam Lyth hitting a rapid unbeaten 38 at the end.
The final quarter final saw Nottinghamshire opt to bat first in a thriller at The Riverside against holders Durham. Samit Patel played a blinding innings of 114 from 113 balls, as nobody else on his team managed to make it beyond the teens. Resultantly, the Outlaws could only total 188 all out, with Steve Harmison (2-40), brother Ben Harmison (2-33), Callum Thorp (2-20) and Gareth Breese (2-50) all taking two wickets apiece. Although Phil Mustard (14) fell early once again in reply, Michael Di Venuto (70) and Will Smith (41) then shared 107, as Durham reached 127-1. A collapse followed though and they found themselves 177-9, with Gareth Breese and Mark Davies at the crease. Breese hit 34 from 37 balls to win the match for the Dynamos with an over to spare to ensure that Durham remain on course to defend their title. Patel completed an impressive allround performance with 3-27, while evergreen Mark Ealham (2-29) and Darren Pattinson (2-46) each took two wickets.
Player of the Week: It can only be on player despite the valiant efforts of Neil Dexter, Yasir Arafat, Samit Patel, Matthew Hoggard and Tim Bresnan. Ravi Bopara is this week's star player for his awesome unbeaten double century and two wickets against Leicestershire for Essex. Let us hope that he can take that form into England's upcoming One Day Series against New Zealand.
The Semi Final Draw:
Durham v Kent, The Riverside
Essex v Yorkshire, Chelmsford