Pepper steers Essex past Somerset in Vitality Blast

Michael Pepper hits out for Essex Eagles against Somerset in the Vitality Blast T20

Michael Pepper hits out for Essex Eagles against Somerset in the Vitality Blast T20 - Credit: Nick Wood/TGS Photo

Michael Pepper scored his maiden Vitality Blast half-century as Essex Eagles beat Somerset by six wickets on DLS to maintain their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage.

Pepper, on his 18th T20 appearance, struck a chase-perfect 55 off 35 balls, having put on 80 with Adam Wheater for the third wicket.

Simon Harmer had bedazzled the Somerset line-up as he claimed four for 24 – his second successive four-for – while New Zealander Devon Conway made it back-to-back half-centuries as he glued the innings of 153 together.

And Pepper and Wheater made short shrift of the chase to win with five balls to spare – and give the Eagles only their fourth T20 victory at the Cloudfm County Ground, Chelmsford since the beginning of the 2018 season.

Somerset were stuck in by the Eagles on a hybrid pitch being used for the fourth time – a fact that made the proficiency of spin no surprise.

The visitors, on the back of chasing down 168 without losing a wicket against Kent Spitfires the previous evening, started off with stands of 30, 31 and 46 as they reached 77 for two at the half-way point – with Tom Banton caught at mid-on and Will Smeed sweeping Harmer to the square leg boundary.

South African Harmer then grabbed three wickets in an over – Lewis Goldsworthy caught at midwicket, Tom Lammonby lbw and Lewis Gregory chipping into the leg side – as Somerset lost seven wickets in 26 balls.

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Ben Green skied Aron Nijjar, Craig Overton edged to short third man, Marchant de Lange was caught by Michael Pepper running in from long on and Conway – having struck his fifty in 42 balls – picked out deep midwicket.

From the last ball of the innings Sam Cook castled Max Waller to land on 153.

After a delayed start to the chase, Wheater and Will Buttleman were both dropped before another rain break saw an over chopped off and the target revised to 148.

The rain subsided and saw Buttleman drill to backward point and Dan Lawrence fluff his slog to long off to leave Essex in danger of collapsing on 35 for two.

But Wheater and Pepper recovered with a brilliantly paced innings, which initially matched the DLS score before occasionally cutting loose to reach a 50 stand in 31 balls.

The 80-run stand eventually ended as Wheater was caught at short cover for 49, before de Lange pinned back Jimmy Neesham’s leg stump.

Pepper was dropped with 15 still needed before cutting to bring up his fifty – with Ryan ten Doeschate smashing Jack Brooks for six over long on to win the match.

“It is a proud moment to get my first fifty. It is special and always much better when it is in a winning performance. I am thrilled by it," said Pepper.

“Our middle order plan is to run other teams ragged, turning ones into twos. That was our [with Wheater] aim while knowing our boundary options. I always enjoy batting with Adam. We have a very clear mind and it helps relax us both.

“It is up there with our best performances of the season especially after they got off to a decent start. We pulled it back and were very good in the field again and saved a few runs out there.

“Harmer and Nijjar have been phenomenal in this tournament. It is class the way they manage to pull it back.”

Somerset head coach Jason Kerr added: “It has been a very disappointing evening. 13 overs in we are 107 for two with a really good platform to go big at the back end of the innings. But to lose four wickets in the space of seven balls and six wickets in five overs is unacceptable. We were 20 or 30 maybe even more under par.

“Guys need to take responsibility in the middle which didn’t happen this evening.

“We showed a lot of character there to take it deep but we ultimately didn’t have enough runs.

“If you look at the way we have played over the last four games they have been very different and have found ways to win games. We are evolving and getting better but tonight was a bad one for us.

“It is important we learn from every game, whether we win or lose, and take those into out next game.”