First hosted second in two T20 Blast groups on Friday and, while North Group pacesetters Notts made the most of home advantage to beat Lancashire with three overs to spare, it was another story in the Central Group.
Second-placed Gloucestershire defeated previously unbeaten Northants by 30 runs at Wantage Road to go top.
Holders Essex lost again, beaten off the last ball by Surrey, who are second in South Group.
This time 12 months ago, Essex were preparing for Finals Day after the astonishing surge of form that earned them a place at Edgbaston and eventually a first T20 crown, a few days before they also sealed the County Championship.
A year on, while they are at least through to win one final in the red-ball Bob Willis Trophy, the chance of another has fast ebbed away.
Essex’s fourth straight defeat leaves them bottom of South Group and almost certainly facing elimination. They are six points off top two Kent and Surrey and five below third-placed Sussex, with only four games left.
“It’s getting tougher and tougher for us to qualify for the next stage,” said Essex opener Cameron Delport.
The Joe Clarke five sixes
A fourth win in six games for Notts Outlaws was set up by a destructive innings of 77 in 36 balls from Joe Clarke.
Chasing Lancashire’s 167-5, Clarke hit five sixes and seven fours at Trent Bridge as Notts won by six wickets to maintain their unbeaten start and go two points clear of Lancashire with four group games left.
Lancashire’s England T20 international all-rounder Liam Livingstone said: “Credit to Joe Clarke, he just kept coming and kept hitting it cleanly. Sometimes you just have to hold your hand up and say you’ve been beaten by the better side.”
England Lions batsman Clarke added: “I guess when you feel like you’re hitting the ball well it’s enjoyable, but the main thing is I contributed to a win.
“The team are flying. We don’t feel like we’re going to get beat. The bowlers were outstanding again and we back ourselves to chase down any score.”
First win for Worcestershire
Worcestershire, finalists for the each of the past two years, finally won their first T20 game of 2020.
Sparked by 56 from Ben Cox, 48 from Jake Libby and 46 from Hamish Rutherford, Worcestershire posted 168-4 at Taunton.
Despite 60 from home skipper Tom Abell, Somerset just failed to get home, losing by three runs as England T20 pace bowler Pat Brown kept his cool in the final over.
Birmingham Bears also won, beating Glamorgan at Edgbaston.
The night began badly for the Bears when it was discovered that the about-to-retire Ian Bell would be missing with a “knee niggle”, and got worse when his replacement, England Test opener Dom Sibley, was out first ball.
Although the Bears could only post 142-9, they then regularly took Glamorgan wickets to earn a second straight win and climb to third in the Central Group, spinner Jake Lintott taking 3-11 from his four overs as the visitors stumbled to 129-8 to lose by 13 runs.
On only Lintott’s fifth appearance, the 27-year-old Somerset-based teacher, who is with his third first-class county after spells with Hampshire and Gloucestershire and has played most of his cricket in Minor Counties with Dorset and Wiltshire, produced the fourth most economical full spell for the Bears in T20 cricket.
“It’s been a pretty surreal couple of weeks,” said Lintott. “I bowled a few bad balls and got away with it.”
Durham duo Alex Lees (77) and Ben Raine (71 off 39 balls) were the stars as they helped to post the second-highest score in their T20 history, 223-2 against Derbyshire, in the North Group’s battle of the bottom two.
The visitors never had any answer to that, despite 53 in 46 from Leus du Plooy, falling well short on 168-5 to lose by 55 runs.
Also in the North Group, Yorkshire wasted a chance to go second as they lost by three wickets to Leicestershire at Grace Road.
Opener Adam Lyth blasted 71 off 46 balls and Jordan Thompson bludgeoned a late 44 off 19 as the visitors amassed 188-6.
But the Foxes got home off the final ball, Ireland international Gareth Delany hitting 64, aided by captain Colin Ackermann (58), Arron Lilley’s quickfire 30 and Ben Mike’s unbeaten 22 off nine balls in a breathtaking finale.
The afternoon delights
Both the day’s two afternoon fixtures produced away wins.
The challenging total of 195-8 piled up by Essex against Surrey was the holders’ highest score in their past 17 T20 matches, including most of last season’s victorious efforts.
It was set up by an opening stand of 105 in 52 balls between Delport (64) and Adam Wheater (63) but Surrey spinners Gareth Batty (2-23) and Dan Moriarty (3-36) put the brakes on.
Laurie Evans then played a superb innings, hitting four sixes and seven fours in his unbeaten 88 from 52 balls.
They still needed 20 from eight balls after Jamie Overton, who smashed 30 off 17 balls, and Jamie Smith were both out in the space of three deliveries, but Gus Atkinson hit the winning boundary with two needed off the final ball.
Meanwhile, Gloucestershire captain Chris Dent posted his third half-century in five innings to maintain his seesaw series of scores and help his side leapfrog Northants at the top of the Central Group.
After starting the competition with a golden duck, he went from 0 to 60, before scores of 3, 87 and this time 50 as the visitors piled up 185-6 – and Northants did not even get close.
Spinners Graeme van Buuren (3-15) and Tom Smith (1-18) dried up the runs as the hosts could only reach 150-6.
Saturday, 12 September (start times BST)
14:00 – Middlesex v Hampshire – Lord’s
14:00 – Kent Spitfires v Sussex Sharks – Canterbury
Sunday, 13 September (start times BST)
13:00 – Worcestershire Rapids v Birmingham Bears – Worcester
14:00 – Glamorgan v Northants Steelbacks – Cardiff
14:00 – Somerset v Gloucestershire – Taunton
14:00 – Derbyshire Falcons v Notts Outlaws – Trent Bridge
14:00 – Durham v Leicestershire Foxes – Chester-le-Street