Essex Eagles v Birmingham Bears, NatWest T20 Blast QF
Varun Chopra and Rikki Clarke booked the Bears place at the NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day on their home ground of Edgbaston as they beat Essex in Chelmsford by 19 runs.
The Bears' unbroken third wicket partnership of 134 in ten overs ensured that they would have a demanding total to defend on the compact Chelmsford ground as they reached 197 for 2 by the close of their innings.
Although Ryan ten Doeschate struck an unbeaten 61 from 37 balls with four sixes and a similar number of fours in reply, none of his colleagues could offer a level of support needed to deny the Bears their success.
Having been put into bat, the partnership between Chopra and Clarke represented a record stand for any wicket by the Bears in T20 cricket as both batsmen tore into an Essex attack that struggled to contain the free-playing pair.
Skipper Chopra reached his half-century from 37 balls with five boundaries that included one six whilst Clarke took ten balls fewer to reach milestone having struck seven boundaries with two sixes.
Chopra collided with Reece Topley at the start of the eighth over and was left with a thigh strain that saw him forced to call on a runner shortly after he had reached his 50. But his incapacity hardly curbed his aggression.
When the innings closed he had faced 54 balls and was just 14 runs short of a century having by then taken his boundary count to ten that included four sixes, two in succession off David Masters in the final over of the innings.
Clarke added 20 more runs in ten balls before the 20 overs were up as the visitors took 66 runs from the last five overs.
William Porterfield, who took on the captaincy role when the Bears fielded, proved the early aggressor in the Bears innings having scored 30 of the 49 runs on the board by the end of the powerplay.
The introduction of Topley though had the left-hander in trouble with the paceman passing the outside of the bat four times in one over. But the batsman's luck ran out in the next when he was bowled by Ravi Bopara for 32 and the bowler claimed a second wicket three balls later when Jonathan Webb played outside the line and was bowled for a single.
That was to prove the last success for Essex as Chopra and Clarke dominated the second half of the innings.
The Bears then set about consolidating the efforts of the batting line-up. Well-disciplined in their bowling and fielding skills, they were initially under threat when Ryder blasted two huge sixes within the first three overs but when he drove Recordo Gordon into the hands of Jeetan Patel at deep mid-wicket having scored 20 from nine balls, Birmingham had taken a major step towards finals day at their home ground.
Boyd Rankin struck twice in three balls to account for Mark Pettini (26) and Tom Westley (13) to leave Essex 65 for 3 at the end of eight overs.
Bopara was joined by ten Doeschate in a fourth wicket stand that boosted the total by 37 in six overs before Bopara, who had taken his score to 24 from 21 balls drove a full toss to deep mid-wicket.
James Foster and ten Doeschate briefly offered Essex supporters a modicum of hope with a 32 runs stand in just three overs but the departure of Foster for 15 from eight balls left Essex requiring a further 64 runs from four overs.
It was too much for even the optimistic ten Doeschate. A six over deep mid-wicket was immediately followed by a straight driven four that brought him to his 50 from 30 balls including three sixes amongst seven boundaries.
However, 29 runs were still needed in the final over bowled by Oliver Hannon-Dalby who maintained good control to concede only nine runs and complete victory for the Bears.
It was the first time in seven quarter-final appearances that they have progressed to Finals day.
Their victorious captain Varun Chopra said: "It was a great day for us as a club. It's a very hard place to come and after losing the toss even harder but the guys stepped up and played exceptionally well for 40 overs and we deserved to win.
"When you look at the team Essex have got, they are a serious side and their batters in particular so it's a daunting place to come but our bowlers executed their skills particularly well."
Tickets for NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day are available to purchase by clicking here or calling the Ticket Hotline on 0844 847 1902.