FOR a record fifth successive season, Hampshire will be at T20 Finals Day after a mesmerising, James Vince-inspired run chase against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge.
Not for the first time, Hampshire came from behind to stun Notts on their own turf to become the first county to reach Finals Day for the fifth year in a row.
Two years after Neil Mckenzie’s heroics, it was Vince who held the innings together, but from the start this time, as Hampshire reached their 198-run target to win by five wickets with a full over to spare in the Trent Bridge sunshine.
It will be surprising if Vince’s latest master-class, a career-best 93 (51 balls, 11 fours, four sixes) does not fire him to a full England debut before the year is out.
The 23 year-old provided further evidence that he is a player for the big occasion by leading from the front in the most important match of his first year as captain, after Hampshire had conceded 197-2 on a very good wicket.
Hampshire were up against it after a below-par performance with the ball.
But Vince was composure personified until he celebrated one of the most dramatic wins and the greatest innings of his limited-overs career.
We were given an early indication that he was back to his best when he hit Harry Gurney for four textbook fours in five balls in taking 17 off the second over, including two trademark drives through the covers.
Boy did he make Notts pay for dropping him on 20 when he cut Shahzad powerfully to Hales in the covers.
Chasing such a big total, it was vital that he and Michael Carberry fired together for the first time this season.
Prior to yesterday, the pair had averaged 10.9 and not put on more than 36 together in the shortest format this year. But they silenced a Notts crowd of 11,237 by putting on 70 from seven overs.
Batting beyond the powerplay (59-0) for the first time in eight T20 innings, Vince went through the gears after Carberry was stumped for a 21-ball 31, including leg-side sixes in successive overs from Gurney and Shahzad, as he tried to take on Samit Patel's first ball.
After successive fours, swept and cover driven against Steven Mullaney, Vince reached a 31-ball fifty by swinging Patel over mid-wicket for his first six.
There were reminders of the corresponding game in 2012, when Glenn Maxwell was out at halfway, with Hampshire needing ten an over, after edging an attempted pull against Shahzad.
When Adams was caught at short-extra cover after completely mis-judging Shazad’s next ball, a slower ball, lesser players would have wobbled.
Not so Vince, who replied with three sixes in four balls - successive pulls against Patel’s slow left-arm and ten in two balls at the start of the next over from Mullaney.
He received terrific support from Sean Ervine, whose 24-ball 39 means he remains on course to become the most decorated player in Hampshire’s history.
Ervine had made 11 when he was dropped on the mid-wicket boundary by Patel immediately after driving Franklin for the first of his two sixes.
Successive Ervine boundaries against Gurney and a driven six over cover kept Hampshire ahead of the rate before he drove the next ball from Luke Fletcher, Notts-best bowler, to long-on.
With Hampshire requiring 20 from the last three overs, there were a few nerves when Will Smith struggled to lay bat on ball against Shahzad.
But Vince ended the over by smashing the last ball, a full toss, for six more.
With 13 needed off the last two overs, Smith drove four more before chipping to mid-wicket.
No matter. Four byes levelled the scores before Coles scored the winning run to mid-off. Cue ecstatic scenes on the Hampshire balcony and from a jubilant Vince.
Coles (2-36) had taken the only wickets to fall during a below par-performance with the ball that featured Danny Briggs’ most expensive figures (4-0-44) since his last England appearance in January and the worst analysis (4-0-51-0) of Kyle Abbott’s career in his only game sandwiched by South Africa duty.
But that was soon wiped out by Vince’s brilliance.
It surpassed his unbeaten 66 against Warwickshire at Edgbaston in the 2010 quarter-final as the best T20 innings of his Hampshire career, keeping his team on course to join Leicestershire as the only team to win the domestic T20 title on three occasions.
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