MATT Coles blasted Hampshire’s fastest-ever T20 fifty to keep alive the county’s hopes of a home quarter-final.

The all-rounder ended Hampshire’s group campaign with a bang, smashing five sixes in an 18-ball half-century to secure a five-wicket win, with 15 balls to spare, against South Division leaders Essex at Chelmsford.

Coles’ astonishing innings, after being promoted to number five, included four sixes in just six balls and surpasses Glenn Maxwell’s 21-ball blitz on the same ground in 2012 as Hampshire’s fastest T20 half-century.

Only three players - Marcus Trescothick (13 balls), Gerard Brophy (14) and Nottinghamshire’s Alex Hales (16) - have hit faster fifties in the history of domestic T20 cricket. The result, Essex’s first on home soil this season, lifts Hampshire into second place - at least for the time being.

Coles and Michael Carberry, whose 28-ball 57 set the tone, ensured a second successive win and regained some much-needed momentum ahead of a likely quarter-final away to Nottinghamshire at the beginning of August.

Hampshire are assured of at least third place and could yet sneak second spot – and with it a home quarter-final – if Surrey lose their last two games.

But no-one will fancy taking Hampshire on, home or away, on last night’s evidence.

Hampshire’s spinners, particularly Will Smith (3-17), were outstanding in restricting Essex to 167-9 at the Ford County Ground, where the boundaries were even shorter than usual.

Having won the toss, captain James Vince was lbw to the first ball of Hampshire’s reply.

But Carberry soon began the mauling of the Essex attack, hitting two of his four sixes in succession, pulled and then swung high over mid-wicket against rookie seamer Matt Salisbury, as Hampshire clattered 62-1 from the powerplay.

He was finally bowled by a Ravi Bopara slower ball, but when Glenn Maxwell (24) limped off after being yorked lbw by Graham Napier - having put on 83 in 46 balls with Carberry – Coles upped the tempo.

Having seen Sean Ervine and Liam Dawson drop routine chances off his bowling, the left-hander soon took out his frustration on Essex’s attack.

Successive sixes against Tom Westley’s off-spin, straight and over mid-wicket, and two similar maximums in three balls against Bopara’s medium pace in the next over, the 13th, silenced the home crowd.

Coles brought up his record-breaking fifty with his fifth and final maximum, over long-off against Salisbury, before holing out for a 22-ball 54.