Michael Pepper’s Explosive Century Ignites Essex Victory: Vitality Blast 2024 Recap

Michael Pepper’s stunning century propels Essex to a commanding victory over Middlesex in a thrilling Vitality Blast encounter 2024.

Pepper’s remarkable knock of 101 runs off just 44 deliveries, embellished with six towering sixes, proved to be the catalyst for Essex’s triumph. 

Michael Pepper’s Explosive Century Ignites Essex Victory: Vitality Blast 2024 Recap
Michael Pepper smashed 101 off 44 balls • Getty Images

Middlesex 203 for 7 (Holden 85*, Andersson 49) lost to Essex 207 for 6 (Pepper 101) by four wickets.

With a brutal century laced with six sixes, Michael Pepper led the destruction as Essex defeated Middlesex by four wickets at Chelmsford to launch their Vitality Blast season.

The previous year’s champions had suffered defeats to Gloucestershire and Somerset in their initial two games played in the West Country, but they turned things around when Essex’s batsmen ate up a subpar Middlesex attack.

Pepper scored 14 runs in the first inning and was eventually out for 101 with only 15 runs needed. He and Dean Elgar (32) shared a partnership of 83 runs for the second wicket, which launched the run chase. Matt Critchley made 16 from 11 balls and Jordan Cox struck 22 from eight balls, but they were only supporting cast members as Essex won with 14 balls remaining.

Martin Andersson opened the game with 49 from 31 balls, and Max Holden’s unbeaten 85 from 42 balls provided the foundation for Middlesex’s innings. However, they have now dropped their season’s opening two games.

With Stevie Eskinazi out of the game after the sixth delivery of the innings, Middlesex forced a flying leg-side catch by wicketkeeper Adam Rossington, overcoming the loss of Eskinazi. Andersson and Ryan Higgins shared a second-wicket stand of 65 in six overs, which laid the groundwork for the visitors to register 203 for 7, a big improvement over their 107 all out against Kent on Friday.

After Higgins made it to 27 from 23 balls after Pepper lost a catch at point on 5, he was stumped after misjudging a ball from Matt Critchley.

Andersson finished third out with a score of 93, nearly doubling his previous best T20 score of 25 with five fours and three sixes. But his attempt to cut the same bowler, Luc Benkenstein, fell to backward gully the ball after he had lifted him over midwicket for six.

Holden was also given a life on 10, as Beard made Simon Harmer pay with two sixes in an over lofted straight down the ground as he rushed in from deep square leg and could not hold on. Walter reached a 26-ball fifty with a single cut off him.

However, he lost partner at the fourth wicket, Joe Cracknell, after they had amassed 62 runs. Daniel Sams caught Cracknell on his second try after he had just scooped Beard for six over square leg. Josh de Caires was thoroughly embarrassed by Paul Walter’s full-length ball two balls later.

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Soon after, Jack Davies caught on and lobbed the ball into the covers off Sams, who then removed Luke Hollman in his following over after he was caught on the deep point boundary. Holden, though, persisted, hitting the Australian for his eighth four and fifth six in the final over to propel Middlesex over 200.

In response, Rossington easily dismissed Tom Helm for six with a straight leg, but Davies made a stunning grab high to his right. This brought in Pepper, who quickly increased Essex’s scoring rate by smashing Blake Cullen for four explosive boundaries in one over and two more off Helm in the next.

Elgar was confined to the opposite end to watch and admire, but he joined in the fun when he swept six off Noah Cornwell to reach 50 in five overs, needing just 22 balls for the half-century stand. The South African hit a second six that went over a sightscreen, and Pepper then hit another six into the Pavilion bleachers before another got him to fifty from 20 balls.

When Elgar left for 32 after a catch at deep extra cover off de Caires, the partnership was worth 83. Cox’s short innings featured two sixes that flew out of the ground before he picked out an in-rushing deep midwicket to give Higgins a wicket, but it did not end the misery for Middlesex.

Pepper was not done yet, as he lofted Cullen for another maximum and ramped Higgins over fine leg with ease into the Pavilion. After reaching a 43-ball century in the sixth over at midwicket, he was leg before wicket by Hollman in the next delivery.

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