Cricket analysts have quantified just about every metric in the game. Bar one. The single variable they haven’t been able to put a number to is the incalculable phenomena called momentum.
It moved like an invisible wave across this Vitality Blast final. It undulated this way and that before settling with Hampshire, who roared back from the depths to claim a remarkable one-run victory on the final ball of the match.
Momentum started with Lancashire as the pace of Richard Gleeson and Luke Wood, delivered from their right and left arms respectively, left Hampshire stuttering on 15 for two. Gleeson may have claimed the scalps of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant in his international debut this month, but he surely hasn’t bowled a better ball than the ripper from a good length that knocked over James Vince.
Then momentum titled towards Hampshire once Ben McDermott started finding the fence in his knock of 62 off 36 balls. But momentum is fickle and it shifted once more when Matt Parkinson claimed four for 26 to restrict Hampshire to 152 for eight. On a pitch that was becoming increasingly difficult to bat on, the stocky wrist spinner found grip and turn with the odd one skidding on.
It was Parkinson who bowled McDermott in the 12th over as Lancashire were able to tighten the screw. That Hampshire reached their tally was a consequence of Ross Whitely’s 22 and Chris Wood’s 21 not out batting at nine.
Their score never looked like it would be enough, especially when Keaton Jennings and Steven Croft were in full control in their chase at 72 for two inside eight overs. Jennings, player of the match in the semi-finals against Yorkshire for his 75 off 51, and fresh from his 318 in the County Championship this week, once again assumed the responsible role, feeding the strike to Croft who looked to bully the bowlers.
Four consecutive fours off Brad Wheal in the fourth over meant his team were ahead of the curve. “I don’t think you’re ever in control in a final like that,” Lancashire’s captain, Dane Vilas, said after the game.
But taking a leaf out of Lancashire’s book, Vince threw the ball to his spinners and between them, Liam Dawson and Mason Crane made sure that momentum altered its course once more. Crane had Croft caught behind for 36. Dawson then had Jennings snaffled at long-off for 24. The score read 72 for three and a pedestrian walk suddenly looked like an arduous trudge.
It was 104 for four when Vilas flashed straight to Vince at cover off Dawson, who ended with two for 23 from his four overs. James Fuller was entrusted with keeping momentum on his side and claimed the double strike of Tim David and Danny Lamb to leave Lancashire needing 29 from 22 balls with four wickets in the bank.
That was achievable as long as Luke Wells, who was living a charmed life, stayed in. In the 14th over he’d been given out lbw. He reviewed in the hope that it had pitched outside leg. When the replays showed that it landed in line with the stumps he was on his way. Astonishingly, the ball would have gone on to miss the stumps. Wells survived. Had momentum oscillated yet again?
It looked that way when Wells lifted Wood for six over long leg and then hammered him for four wide of long-on. But Wells’s luck ran out when Vince nailed a direct hit to leave the batter short at the non-striker’s end off the last ball of the 19th.
That left 11 to win from the final six deliveries. Nathan Ellis was handed the ball. What followed was bedlam. He bowled Gleeson with the final ball and Hampshire celebrated to the sound of fireworks. It was premature. Ellis had overstepped. He’d have to bowl it again – two runs to win. One last chance for momentum to twist. But it wasn’t to be, Lancashire could only manage one. Hampshire survived the whims of this strange force, lifting their third title in staggering fashion.
“It was a great game of cricket,” was Vince’s understatement after the match. “A few things got in the way of us getting over the line. The fight the guys showed, the never-say-die attitude shone through.”
It was exactly the sort of ending this cricket jamboree deserved. Traditionalists might argue that too many among the hodgepodge audience aren’t here for the sport. They’re not entirely wrong. Finals Day has always offered an excuse to play fancy dress and biff a beach ball around while getting drunk in the sun. But those who peered beyond the edge of their pint would have been entertained by two captivating semi-finals and one breathtaking showpiece.
The ECB cops a lot of criticism for over-tinkering with its product and failing to listen to its legacy fans. Credit where it’s due, though. This event, unlike anything else in world cricket, is something special.