Alex Hales was back to his best as Notts Outlaws defeated Middlesex in their Vitality T20 Blast quarter-final, says Dan Christian.
The bold decision to tinker with their top order helped the Outlaws to a ruthless victory at Trent Bridge to send them to another finals day.
Chris Nash was called into the side for the first time this season, at the expense of Joe Clarke, and the former Sussex batsman remained unbeaten on 74 as Notts swept to a 10-wicket victory, with 22 balls to spare.
Set a victory target of 161, the home side raced to the finish line with Nash making 74 not out and Alex Hales, who won the match with his seventh six, on 83 not out.
Both players were dropped by the shell-shocked visitors; Nash at long-on by Steven Finn on 31 and his partner on 47 by Toby Roland-Jones.
“That was pretty close to the perfect game,” said Christian. “We’ve been looking for that all tournament and if you pulled apart every ball you’d hardly be able to find many faults with our game. Early wickets in the powerplay always helps and it put them under pressure because we tried to make them take risks.
“It’s been tough to have somebody Like Chris (Nash) on the side-lines throughout and difficult to get him in the team but it was a decision we felt we had to make and luckily it paid off.
“Alex (Hales) has been getting better and better and this was him back to his best.”
Middlesex were put in by home captain Dan Christian at the start of the evening and had to settle for 160 for eight on a fresh strip. Eoin Morgan made 53 from 31 balls, before becoming one of Harry Gurney’s two victims. Matt Carter, with two for 16 was the most economical member of the Outlaws’ attack.
Nash, whose only Blast appearance last season resulted in a season-ending shoulder injury, opened his account for Notts by clubbing Mujeeb Ur Rahman for a boundary from an opening over that went for 16.
Both openers hit sixes inside the first three overs and the 50 partnership came up in only 22 deliveries.
The race to 50 was narrowly won by Nash, getting there from only 30 balls but Hales reached the milestone from only 26 deliveries.
By the halfway stage 112 runs were on the board and the outcome was already assured.
Hales delivered his full repertoire of attacking shots, with Nash justifying his selection by matching his partner shot for shot.
Earlier, Middlesex had to re-build after losing both openers in the fourth over to Matt Carter; Paul Stirling lofted out to deep-midwicket and then skipper Dawid Malan was bowled.
AB de Villiers and Stevie Eskinazi lifted the score to 43 but they followed each other back, both dismissed by Imad Wasim from consecutive deliveries.
Morgan, England’s World Cup-winning captain, was given a warm and respectful welcome to the middle by the Nottingham public. The 32-year old combined with John Simpson to take the total to 66 for four at halfway.
Morgan lifted Samit Patel into the crowd for the first six of the match and Notts missed the chance of breaking the partnership at the start of the twelfth over when Simpson was spilled by Christian from a difficult caught and bowled chance.
The reprieve was brief as Simpson failed to clear long-on for 22. Morgan looked to get after Gurney in the eighteenth over, hitting him for two sixes – the second of which brought up his 50 – but the attempt for a third in a row fell short as Ben Duckett held his second catch of the innings.
Luke Wood and Gurney delivered the final two overs at the expense of a trickle of singles, leaving Middlesex’s score within comfortable striking range of the Outlaws’ top order.
Notts will now take their place at their fifth Finals Day, on 21 September – their third in four seasons.