ESSEX'S hopes of making it to the T20 Blast finals day were ruined by the Birmigham Bears at Chelmsford.
An unbroken third-wicket partnership of 134 in 11 overs between Varun Chopra and Rikki Clarke helped fire the Bears to a 19 run win over Ryan ten Doeschate's men.
And the Essex skipper was gutted that his side had not made it to finals day again after a scintillating start to their T20 season which saw them win 10 of their first 11 matches.
Ten Doeschate said: "After we had played so well in the qualifying stages it is so disappointing to get a result like this.
"We have been outsmarted but we have to take it on the chin. We didn't get our skills right in our bowling and delivered more bad balls than they did."
Chopra and Clarke's unbroken third-wicket partnership ensured that the Bears would have a demanding total to defend on the compact Chelmsford ground as they reached 197 for two by the close of their innings.
Although ten Doeschate struck an unbeaten 61 from 37 balls with four sixes and as many fours in reply, none of his colleagues could offer the level of support needed to deny the Bears their success.
Having been put in to bat, the partnership between Chopra and Clarke represented a record stand for any wicket by the club in T20 cricket as both batsmen tore into an Essex attack that struggled to contain the free-playing pair.
Skipper Chopra, who left Essex to join the Midlands county in 2010, reached his half-century from 37 balls with five boundaries that included one six whilst Clarke took 10 balls fewer to reach the milestone having struck seven boundaries with two sixes.
Chopra collided with Reece Topley at the start of the eighth over and was left with a thigh strain that saw him forced to call on a runner shortly after he had reached his 50. But his incapacity hardly curbed his aggression.
When the innings closed, he had faced 54 balls and was just 14 runs short of a century, having by then taken his boundary count to 10 that included four sixes, two in succession off David Masters in the final over of the innings.
Clarke added 20 more runs in 10 balls before the 20 overs were up as the visitors took 66 runs from the last five overs.
Will Porterfield, who took on the captaincy role when Birmingham fielded, proved the early aggressor in the Bears innings, having scored 30 of the 49 runs on the board by the end of the powerplay.
The introduction of Topley though had the left-hander in trouble with the paceman passing the outside of the bat four times in one over.
But the batsman's luck ran out in the next when he was bowled by Ravi Bopara for 32 and the bowler claimed a second wicket three balls later when Jonathon Webb played outside the line and was bowled for a single.
That was to prove the last success for Essex as Chopra and Clarke dominated the second half of the innings.
The Bears then set about consolidating the efforts of the batting line-up.
Well disciplined in their bowling and fielding skills, they were initially under threat when Jesse Ryder blasted two huge sixes within the first three overs.
But when he drove Recordo Gordon into the hands of Jeetan Patel at deep mid-wicket having scored 20 from nine balls, Birmingham had taken a major step towards Finals Day at their home ground.
Boyd Rankin struck twice in three balls to account for Tom Westley (13) and Mark Pettini (26) to leave Essex 65 for three at the end of eight overs.
Bopara was joined by Ten Doeschate in a fourth-wicket stand that boosted the total by 37 in six overs before Bopara, who had taken his score to 24 from 21 balls, drove a full toss to deep mid-wicket.
James Foster and Ten Doeschate briefly offered Essex supporters a modicum of hope with a 32-run stand in just 14 balls but the departure of Foster for 15 from eight balls left Essex requiring a further 64 runs from four overs.
It was too much for even the optimistic Ten Doeschate. A six over deep mid-wicket was immediately followed by a straight driven four that brought him to his 50 from 30 balls including three sixes amongst seven boundaries.
However, 29 runs were still needed in the final over bowled by Oliver Hannon-Dalby who maintained good control to concede only nine runs and complete victory for the Bears.
It was the first time in seven quarter-final appearances that they have progressed to Finals Day.
Their victorious captain Chopra said: "It was a great day for us as a club. It's a very hard place to come and, after losing the toss, even harder but the guys stepped up and played exceptionally well for 40 overs and we deserved to win.
"When you look at the team Essex have got, they are a serious side, and their batters in particular, so it's a daunting place to come but our bowlers executed their skills particularly well."