Aaron Finch made an impressive return © Getty Images
Surrey 222 for 4 (Finch 58, Foakes 56, Clarke 48*, Pope 31*, Zampa 2-20) beat Essex 183 for 7 (Chopra 67, Pillans 3-34, Batty 3-36) by 39 runs Scorecard
It may not have been worth throwing a pint in the air for (at least not when they cost £5), but there was a familiar sense of high-summer euphoria to be experienced at The Oval as Surrey got their Vitality Blast campaign up and running with a win at the third attempt. England's footballers are out of the World Cup, and their cricketers being dealt a reality check by India, but there are still beery, bleary fun-times to be had down in Kennington.
Little more than a week after striking a T20 international record of 172 from 76 balls in Harare, Aaron Finch flew in to blow away Surrey's troubles. He only made 58 from 33 this time, but right from the start his presence seemed to send adrenalin coursing through Surrey veins on the way to their second-highest T20 score; Varun Chopra struck a more stately 67 off 46 to keep Essex in with a chance of pulling off a record chase, but they fell away as the asking rate became ever-more vertiginous.
Surrey know how to do the Blast justice, packing in the Thursday and Friday crowds for a night on the sherbet. They even produce their own in-house coverage, never mind whether Sky are in town, to give spectators the full experience: cue delirious big-screen footage of punters taking "Kia catches" worth £1000, and regular appearances of the "Floss cam" (a dance to ask your kids about, but not try).
Finch is appropriately named, so fond is he of going aerial. Dedicated twitchers would doubtless identify him as a particularly aggressive breed of bullfinch, chest puffed out and plumage proud. Those watching the London skies for the Baby Trump blimp – or the version of Sadiq Khan being proposed by a rival group of activists – might be just as likely to catch sight of Finch's range-hitting; though Surrey are off down to Hove on Friday, so their overseas batsman is unlikely to cause a diplomatic incident.
Having only stepped off a plane a couple of days ago, Finch was quick to take flight once again. His second ball, bowled by Sam Cook, was clubbed unceremoniously towards cow corner; his fourth went even further, straight into the crowd at long-on for the first six of the night. Sixteen runs came from Cook's over – Rory Burns had already taken 12 off Jamie Porter – as a Finch-inspired Surrey set about giving another roistering full house of nearly 25,000 plenty to cheer about.
That included a drop from the first ball of the fourth over, as Finch swatted Porter straight to Matt Coles at deep square leg, only for him to drop a desperate juggle. It was to be a costly drop – though not as costly, for Surrey's main sponsor, as some of the catching in the crowd.
Finch's batting not only enriched the scoreboard but was a profitable enterprise for spectators: two mighty blows over long-off were taken cleanly, each doubtless worth an immediate trip to the bar. Surrey's new toy, a £250,000 screen on the Harleyford Road side of the ground, repeatedly lit up like a fruit machine as Ben Foakes and, later, Rikki Clarke joined in the fun.
The arrival of Finch, and his compatriot Nic Maddinson, from Australia duty was always likely to pep up Surrey, whose opening fixtures saw them lose tight matches to Middlesex and Kent. Maddinson fell in single-figures, skewing Porter over mid-off, but Finch and Foakes made merry during an 86-run stand for the third wicket.
Essex's seamers were bludgeoned at will, Foakes demonstrating a high front-elbow on the drive while Finch rocked back and swung for the fences. Both made rapid half-centuries – Finch from 29 balls, Foakes pretty much keeping pace off 31 – and it required some controlled bowling from Finch's Australia international, legspinner Adam Zampa, to rein things in. His analysis of 4-0-20-2 highlighted the shortcomings in the rest of the Essex attack, who conceded 202 runs from their 16 overs.
Both Finch and Foakes hitting across the line against Zampa but, just as Essex had a sniff of keeping Surrey to under 200, the bowling disintegrated again. Clarke slapped four sixes of his own, while Ollie Pope made puckish use of his angles at the other end, reverse-sweeping for fun as 52 runs bled from the last three overs and the flamethrowers on the boundary belched with enough violence to make the press box rattle.
Surrey are up and running. With Jason Roy and the Currans to return – Tom was fit enough for an extended bat in the nets before play – they will know that qualification is still eminently achievable; after all, last year's winners, Notts, lost their opening two games. If England's T20 trophy is to come back to its (spiritual) home for the first time since 2003, this was a night to inspire belief.
Alan Gardner is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick
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