Essex entertain Sussex at Chelmsford tonight knowing they must win to go through to the knockout stages.
Essex entertain Sussex in their final Twenty20 South Division match at Chelmsford tonight knowing that a win is vital if they are to be guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals.
The visitors have only pride at stake as they occupy bottom place in the section and they have already been eliminated from any interest in the knock-out stages. They have lost three of their four matches so far, the other game being abandoned.
In contrast, Essex are in second place with five points earned from two victories and one point from the washed out match with league leaders Surrey. The top two teams from each of the three groups and the best two third-placed teams will progress to the last eight.
The further incentive to head a group after completion of the qualifying stage is the guarantee of a home tie when the draw is made this evening on Sky television at around 10.15pm.
Having started with two impressive successes, beating Hampshire by 40 runs and then Kent by eight wickets, Essex were unfortunate to see their next game against Surrey washed out, depriving the club of welcome revenue from an expected capacity 7,000 crowd.
However, there was little to enthuse about from Monday's night's display at Southgate when Ronnie Irani's men generally struggled throughout with both bat and ball and failed to pose a serious threat to a Middlesex side that gained their first win of the season in three attempts in the competition.
Their margin of victory – eight wickets – summed up the one-sided nature of the contest.
Essex will be looking to bounce back from that defeat, and the lacklustre performance the previous day against Warwickshire at Edgbaston when they were beaten by 54 runs in a totesport League match.
Irani is aware that a much-improved performance is required this evening.
"We can't disguise the fact that we weren't good enough. We didn't do ourselves justice in the last two matches and we need to make a dramatic improvement if we are to beat Sussex," said the Essex skipper.
"This is a crucial game because we need to win to progress and that's the incentive for the players. Since the defeats of the past few days, we've talked about a number of things and have been working hard to overcome those setbacks and I'm confident that we can return to winning ways and claim our place in the quarter-finals.
"I've heard a number of people say that if we don't qualify, then our season is over. I understand why they are thinking that, because we haven't got the results we wanted in the two league competitions, but a win tonight would give everyone a huge lift and hopefully restore the fans' belief in us."
Sussex were defeated by Kent on Tuesday night – their 11th defeat in their last 13 one-day matches.
A near-capacity crowd is once again anticipated at the County Ground after huge response in advance sales, although there will be a limited number of tickets available at the gate in a first-come, first-served basis.
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