A STUNNING all-round performance from Liam Plunkett kept Yorkshire on course for the double this season with a 20-run win over Essex in their One-Day Cup quarter-final at Chelmsford.
The 30-year-old scored 49 not out from just 32 balls to help the visitors make 252-9 batting first, before taking 3-58, including the crucial wickets of Jesse Ryder and Ravi Bopara, as Essex scored 232 all out.
Essex seamer Reece Topley took 4-56 to leave Yorkshire tottering at 202-9 despite 72 from Jack Leaning, but Plunkett intervened with bat and ball to defy the hosts, who had reached 95-1.
The Vikings will host Gloucestershire in a semi-final and are undefeated and comfortably top of the Division One County Championship.
Essex had won the toss and inserted the visitors, who progressed steadily until Alex Lees was caught at the wicket for 18 off Reece Topley.
Fellow opening bowler David Masters was unerringly consistent in conceding a miserly 29 from his 10 overs, taking him to a competition-high 280 dot balls.
Nevertheless returning Ashes winner Adam Lyth had reached a fluent 36 from 40 balls, before chopping on trying to pull a slower-ball off-spinner from Jamie Porter.
Similarly to Lyth and Lees, England internationals Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance both looked good without going on, hitting 19 and 32 respectively.
Bairstow had hit two trademark whips through mid-wicket for four before edging behind to James Foster off Jesse Ryder, whilst Ballance patiently accumulated before being caught at the wicket off Ravi Bopara.
The fourth-wicket partnership between Balance and Leaning had been worth 67 but once ended preceded an extraordinary collapse from 163-3 to 202-9.
Rhodes was caught off Bopara for 9, Adil Rashid was bowled by Ryan ten Doeschate for a third-ball duck before Topley dismissed Leaning to gain revenge after earlier dropping the batsman.
Topley then outfoxed Leaning, who fell into a trap set for the hook shot, to gain revenge after earlier dropping the batsman, whose resilient 72 held the innings together.
The 21-year-old made it three wickets in three overs by having Bresnan caught pulling and castling Patterson, leaving Yorkshire almost down and out at 202-9, on a good batting track with notoriously short boundaries, with just five overs left.
Plunkett was not reading that script.
He had accumulated his way five not out from 13 balls, but took having only 17 year-old Matthew Fisher for company as his cue to get hitting. And by God he did.
He smacked 44 from his next 19 deliveries in a brutal assault, signalled by a straight six off Topley and a deftly guided four through fine-leg.
Porter was hooked for four and hit for sixes over mid-on and dead straight from a full toss, before Topley, who bowled impressively to take 4-56, was taken for his 12 in the last over.
A dot from the last ball left Plunkett one short a deserved fifty, whilst Topley reached 20 wickets in this competition.
Both can play big roles in the national teams future- watching England selector Angus Fraser must have been left purring.
Yorkshire had an early wicket as Mark Pettini was unfortunate to be run out backing up off the barrel-chested Tim Bresnan.
Incoming batsman Tom Westley settled quickly, evident from a beautiful early cover-drive for four off Steve Patterson that appeared ominous.
Westley reached a 51-ball fifty, featuring two disdainful sixes off Plunkett whilst opener Nick Browne appeared set too — Essex were 95-1 and enjoying a victory procession.
Plunkett had other ideas.
He splattered the stumps of Westley with a top-class inswinging yorker and three balls later held onto a stinging catch at mid-wicket to remove Browne, who had leathered an Adil Rashid long hop.
The seamer then came wide of the crease, producing an outswinger that clean bowled Jesse Ryder. Suddenly a Plunkett-inspired Yorkshire had taken 3-5 in 11 balls, and Essex had fallen from 95-1 to 100-4.
Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate then hit five boundaries across the next three full overs. The Chelmsford crowd roared each one with increasing gusto. Was the game shifting towards the hosts?
Not with Plunkett about.
Coming from his often-used yet unorthodox angle of right-arm round from wide of the crease, the 30 year-old produced an absolute jaffa that Bopara could only edge to Bairstow, who took an excellent diving catch. 127-5.
Plunkett’s allocation had ended with 3-58, though the raw figures fail to show just how telling his all-round contribution was — his batting ensured that Yorkshire even had a reasonable total to bowl at.
The game was far from over though, raiding a packed fortress Chelmsford under floodlights is never easy at the best of times.
However James Foster and Ryan ten Doeschate shared a valuable sixth-wicket stand of 60.
The pendulum continued to swing just as Essex had two set batsman with only five an over needed, Foster was caught for a responsible 30 in the deep off Rhodes, out trying to repeat a superb six of his hips earlier on.
Ten Doeschate passed 5,000 List A runs in reaching a composed fifty, though the very next ball Rhodes, whose 2-22 was outstanding under intense pressure, had the Dutch international holing out to Bresnan at long-on.
The tail needed to wag but the Vikings were ruthless as Patterson (1-37) had Masters LBW, whilst Bresnan (2-45) dismissed Aaron Nijjar LBW before castling Topley for a duck to secure seal the win.
Though Yorkshire captain Alex Lees was superb, it was primarily the heroics of Plunkett that mean the Vikings can dream of the double.
Given the difficult summer the seamer has already endured with injuries, England and disciplinary issues, only the cruelest man would deny Plunkett his happy ending.