Essex 172 for 9 (Wheater 43) Middlesex 163 for 7 (Bopara 2-24) by nine runs
Ravi Bopara and Mohammad Amir bowled typically miserly four-over spells, conceding just 24 and 25 runs respectively, to keep alive Essex's outside chance of qualifying for the knockout stages of NatWest T20 Blast.
Essex's fourth win of the season moved them off the foot of the South Group, but they require wins from their final three games to stand any hope of a quarter-final spot. Bopara and Amir, who both claimed two wickets each, were well supported in the parsimonious stakes by Dan Lawrence and Simon Harmer as Middlesex were pulled up nine runs short in their pursuit of 173.
Legspinner Nathan Sowter blasted a hole in the middle of the Essex innings with career-best T20 figures of 4 for 23, but Adam Wheater's 21-ball 43 laid the foundations for the home win.
Essex, put in, raced past 50 in the fifth over but lost Varun Chopra when he chipped at catchable height to James Franklin at midwicket. Wheater maintained his sharp upturn in form and lofted Ryan Higgins for two sixes in an over to long leg. But he departed when he tried to chop Sowter's first ball to third man and was bowled.
Dan Lawrence tried to lift Sowter over long leg for six but was comfortably caught by Tim Southee, and Ashar Zaidi then received a reprieve first ball when he pulled Sowter to midwicket where Tim Helm dropped the chance. It was not too costly as Zaidi attempted the same against Higgins and was caught by a tumbling Stevie Eskinazi.
Bopara thumped Paul Stirling for six over the press-box stand and into the river behind but, after contributing 27 from 25 balls, he was caught on the long-leg boundary by Franklin. Sowter added a fourth wicket in the same over when he had James Foster lbw first ball attempting to sweep.
Ryan ten Doeschate fell to a running catch on the cover boundary by George Scott, having made 25 and Simon Harmer followed, giving Southee another catch at long leg. Amir was run out from the last ball, leaving Paul Walter on a pugnacious 20 not out.
Middlesex lost Stirling in the second over of their reply when the Irishman holed out in deep midwicket where substitute fielder Callum Taylor claimed the steepler. That brought in Eskinazi to join John Simpson and the pair hit five boundaries off seven balls against Matt Dixon and Paul Walter.
But the return of Amir ended the second-wicket fun when Eskinazi chopped him straight to Taylor at point. Simpson didn't stay much longer, misjudging Lawrence's first ball and going lbw for 30 from 19 balls. Lawrence's first over, the last in the Powerplay went for just two and stalled Middlesex's early charge.
Middlesex reached the halfway point on 79 for 3 and, though Eoin Morgan survived a drop by Taylor on 21. His fourth-wicket partnership with George Scott reached 56 when Morgan miscued sufficiently high to wide mid-on that Bopara had time to race back and take a memorable caught and bowled.
Lawrence's impressive figures were ruined when Scott clubbed his final ball for six over long off to leave the off-spinner with one for 29 from his four overs. But Amir came back and conceded just two runs from third to leave Middlesex needing 10 an over from the last five. It rose to 47 needed from the last four overs.
Franklin was caught at deep midwicket by Harmer off Bopara and Scott bowled by Zaidi for a 36-ball 34 after an ungainly swish. A faster ball from Amir accounted for Southee to leave Middlesex needing 26 from the final over with three wickets left. Higgins hit a six off Walter's penultimate ball, but with 12 required from the last ball the result was not in doubt.