Moeen Ali breaks Sussex hearts again as Sharks miss out on Vitality Blast Finals Day

Phil Salt hits out during his 40-ball 72 / Picture: Getty Images
Phil Salt hits out during his 40-ball 72 / Picture: Getty Images

There will be no return to Vitality Blast Finals Day for Sussex Sharks after Worcestershire Rapids cantered to a comfortable quarter-final win at Hove thanks to a superb big-hitting 121 not out by skipper Moeen Ali.

He might be on the outside looking in as far as England are concerned but Moeen was at his brilliant best - he didn't just lead the Rapids victory charge, he looked after it pretty much single-handedly with what was surely one of the best white-ball innings ever seen at Hove.

Moeen sent the ball to all parts of the ground - and, quite a few times, outside the ground - as he took the Sharks attack apart in a night when the home side's previously excellent T20 campaign came to an abrupt end.

It came a year after the Worcestershire captain played a key role in his side's victory over Sussex at Finals Day at Edgbaston - an occasion Worcestershire will now return to while Sussex concentrate on trying to end 2019 with promotion in the county championship.

The Sussex innings started and ended well but fell rather flat in the middle. Luke Wright (28) and Phil Salt (72) led the Sharks past the 100 mark inside 11 overs - but after a mid-innings collapse it needed an unbroken 38-run stand between Laurie Evans (43*) and Ollie Robinson (18*) to give the scoreboard a healthy look at halfway.

The Rapids reply lived up to their name as Moeen, well supported by Riki Wessels, struck the ball to all corners to lead his side home with plenty of balls to spare.

The Sharks celebrate after Reece Topley removes Joe Leach / Picture: Getty Images

The Sharks celebrate after Reece Topley removes Joe Leach / Picture: Getty Images

Moeen won the toss and asked the Sharks to bat first - perhaps influenced by the fact that in the two quarter-finals already played, the side chasing runs had won comfortably, Essex overcoming Lancashire and Notts thrashing Middlesex, led by ex-Sussex batsman Chris Nash.

But those games were gone and Sussex went into this one confident they had the firepower to take revenge over the side who beat them in the showpiece at Edgbaston a year ago.

Moeen bowled the opening over and Salt was off the mark with a leg-side single from the first delivery, but only three came from a tidy first six balls. It was seamer Charlie Morris bowling from the Cromwell Road end and Wright attacked him, scoring the night's first boundary through the covers. Salt followed his lead with a six over square leg.

Salt was soon dishing out punishment to Dillon Pennington, sending two of his first three deliveries to the rope. The Rapids used four different bowlers to deliver the first four overs and the fourth, Pat Brown, brought about the first chance - but Morris dropped a difficult one at mid-off after Salt miscued one high into the air.

Wright and Salt were both timing the ball well and brought up the 50 partnership in the sixth over, ending the powerplay on 55-0. The Sharks' tenth boundary came in the eighth over as they kept the scoreboard ticking over nicely and when Daryl Mitchell came on to bowl, Salt showed no mercy as he struck two sixes in three balls over long-on to pass 50 off only 31 balls.

Mitchell persevered though and when he tried to follow Salt's lead and wallop one over long-on he was caught by Ed Barnard for 28.

Evans joined Salt and Sussex reached 94-1 at the halfway stage of their innings. Salt had taken a particular liking to Mitchell's bowling and sent another two sixes over square leg. But Mitchell had the last laugh when he had Salt caught by Riki Wessels for a 40-ball 72 as he went for another maximum straight down the ground.

Alex Carey sent the second ball he faced soaring over the leg-side boundary for six but soon sent an attempted pull straight up into the air and was caught by keeper Ben Cox to give Barnard his first wicket - and Barnard dealt Sussex a further blow in the same over when he bowled David Wiese for a duck.

The double setback becalmed the Sharks innings for a while as Evans and Delray Rawlins tried to rebuild without doing anything silly. It didn't work as Moeen returned to trap Rawlins caught and bowled. Chris Jordan was caught by behind trying to hook Morris and there was a rather subdued feel around the ground at this point. Moeen finished his four overs with a tidy 1-22 while Barnard could be delighted with his 2-21.

Robinson helped Evans produce some late momentum - one tremendous shot from the paceman just escaping a fielder's outstretched arm to go for six. Such was Robinson's batting that Evans saw little of the strike in the final couple of overs - though he did strike the final two balls of the innings for four and Sussex finished with a creditable 184-6.

It looked an above-par score and it felt even better when Topley bowled Joe Leach in the first over of the Rapids reply - then almost did the same to Moeen. The England man had another reprieve in Robinson's first over when he edged one but Carey dropped a straightforward catch - which sadly for Sussex was to prove crucial.

Wessels and Moeen each offered another half-chance which dropped to safety with fielders converging and gradually they went about fashioning a stand.

Moeen sparked life into the innings with a big six over square leg that bounced off the top of an advert hoarding and flew over the roof of the stand - one of two huge sixes in the same Topley over.

Wessels was playing second fiddle to an in-form Moeen, who was averaging a boundary per over and dished out some punishment to Will Beer in his first over. Wiese was next to see a delivery hit out of the ground - in fact Moeen put two in an over out of the ground as he threatened to take the game away from the Sharks.

Whichever bowler Sussex tried, it didn't matter to Moeen as he passed 50 off 30 balls and carrieed on timing it with perfection and hitting the ball to all parts of the crowd.

Wessels was playing a low-key if solid supporting role as the momentum swung firmly in favour of the Rapids. continuing to score at more than the nine an over they needed. Moeen did have let off when Wiese couldn't hold a tricky catch on the boundary when the all-rounder rarely timed one not so well.

Topley thought he had caught Moeen with a juggling act on the rope but TV replays showed he had stepped on to the rope while the ball was still in his hand - then from the next ball, Topley dropped a much simpler Moeen chance.

By then, in truth, the game was over and Moeen and Wessels got the job done in brutal fashion, although Wessels was caught by Salt off Robinson with six still needed. Inevitably those six came from one Moeen hit - a fitting end to a sobering night for Sussex.