|Bob Willis Trophy, The Cloudfm County Ground (day three):|
|Middlesex 138 & 150: Holden 37; Beard 4-21|
|Essex 236 & 53-1: Cook 21|
|Essex (20 pts) beat Middlesex (3 pts) by nine wickets|
Unbeaten Essex confirmed their place in the Bob Willis Trophy final as South Group victors with an emphatic nine-wicket win over Middlesex.
Sir Alastair Cook, Paul Walter and Tom Westley knocked off the 53 required in 13.5 overs after Sam Cook, Aaron Beard and Simon Harmer claimed the final four wickets as Middlesex were bowled out for 150.
Essex's place at Lord's on 23 September was cemented when North Group leaders Derbyshire failed to get a batting point against Lancashire - which was met by cheers from the Essex dressing room.
The two group winners with the most points go through to the five-day final - and it meant Derbyshire could only match Essex's 90 points, if they managed to beat Lancashire at Aigburth, but they would have only won three games compared to Essex's four.
Middlesex resumed with a slim lead of 25 runs, six wickets down, with the hope of the tail setting Essex a tricky fourth-innings chase, but it did not pan out how they would have dreamed overnight as they lost their last four wickets in just under 15 overs,.
Fast bowler Cook, who had taken four wickets in the first innings, uprooted James Harris's off stump with his second ball of the morning, then needed only another 13 balls to strangle Blake Cullen down the leg side. The 18-year-old tickled through to wicketkeeper Adam Wheater - his first second-innings catch, having pouched five in the first innings.
Cook was replaced at the Hayes Close End by Aaron Beard, on the back of his three wickets in 21 balls on day three, and he also struck immediately.
Thilan Walallawita saw his leg stump cartwheeling towards the River Can as Beard unleashed a yorker to end with career-best figures of 4-21.
And, in the next over, Tim Murtagh, swung wildly and was stumped, to earn leading wicket-taker Simon Harmer his 34th Trophy scalp.
With wicketkeeper John Simpson left unbeaten on 26, from 123 balls, Essex then needed a nominal 53 for an 11th straight first-class victory at Chelmsford.
Openers Cook and Walter marched to 41, both striking four boundaries in what appeared a procession. But, although Murtagh castled Cook, Walter clipped the winning runs off leg-spinner Nick Gubbins.
Essex head coach Anthony McGrath:
"We knew we needed three or four wins to get to the final, so to win four out of five and have the other rained off, you can't ask for much more. We have carried on from last season. It has been unbelievable consistency from everyone.
"I was critical after the second day against Kent in the first game of the season but, since then, we have been very good.
"We are mathematically in the final so the guys can relax. To play a five-day final at Lord's is special,. You don't tend to get that in red-ball cricket, and it might not happen again."
Middlesex captain Steve Eskinazi:
"Essex have been the benchmark of the competition for two years. They are unbelievable on their home turf and have a side packed with guys who get the job done.
"It has been a massive honour and privilege to captain. This was a huge challenge for us as a young group, a good opportunity to see where we are against one of the top sides in Division One.
"It didn't go to plan for us this week. We got thoroughly outplayed, but we will learn a lot from the last three days to take into next year. To put ourselves in a position where, if we had three or four good days, we could have been in the final is very pleasing, a position not many thought we'd be in."
Match report supplied by PA Media.