The Sussex Sharks’ slim chances of qualifying for the Vitality Blast quarter-finals are over after they were beaten by six wickets by the Kent Spitfires at Canterbury.
Joe Denly hit 58 and Sam Billings was unbeaten on 33 as Kent eventually coasted home with seven balls remaining to finish on 159 for four.
Grant Stewart earlier took 3 for 38 and George Linde 2 for 14 as Kent restricted Sussex to 158 for 7. Ali Orr made 36 and Harrison Ward 33 but the Sharks failed to kick on after racing to 76 for 1 at the end of eight overs.
In a derby billed as “The War of the Wealds”, Kent made an early breakthrough when, having won the toss and chose to bowl, Fred Klaassen had Mohammad Rizwan caught at gully for four with the fourth ball of the innings, but Orr and Ward responded with a rapid partnership of 73.
Having endured a brutal debut at home to Gloucestershire on Tuesday night, when his only over went for 26, Jas Singh looked like getting a deserved wicket when Ward skied him to mid on, but Klaassen dropped the catch. and the run rate was threatening to get out of hand until the Spitfires took two wickets in the ninth over. Ward was run out by Ahmad, chasing a non-existent single to point and Qais then caught Tom Alsop for one off George Linde.
Orr fell in Linde’s next over, caught at deep backward square by Jack Leaning for 33, and the same fielder caught Ravi Bopara off Qais Ahmad for seven at cow corner.
A nonplussed Delray Rawlins was given caught behind off Qais for 28 and Rashid Khan had made just three when he chipped Grant Stewart to Tawanda Muyeye at mid off, before George Garton gave Sussex something to defend with 31 from 15 balls, before he edged the final ball of the innings to Klaassen to hand Stewart his third wicket.
Rawlins had Muyeye plumb in front for a duck in the first over of the chase but Henry Crocombe then dropped Cox off Steven Finn when he was on four.
Crocombe took his revenge when he tempted Cox into a miscue that was caught by Orr at short fine leg, dismissing him for 18, but Denly batted Kent into a winning position with another explosive innings that included a six off Will Beer that cleared the Frank Woolley stand – for for only the third time in its history. He moved to 50 with a single off Rawlins and then hit Bopara for another six, but edged the next delivery to Brocombe.
With Denly gone Billings was left to anchor the chase. He lost Alex Blake was lbw to Khan for six and the boundaries dried up, but managed to keep the scoreboard ticking over with George Linde at the other end, chipping away at the target with ones and twos.
Bopara and Khan kept Sussex in it with some tight bowling and Kent still needed 24 from 18 when Finn came on at the Pavilion End, but the former England man was pummelled for 18 runs, including successive fours off the final two balls from Linde.
Linde hit the winning run when he edged Beer and Orr couldn’t pull in a difficult, diving catch. The result means Sussex cannot now qualify for the last eight, while the already eliminated champions Kent recorded their third Blast win of the season.
Kent’s George Linde said: “It was a really good win. We asked for some bravery. We knew a big crowd was going to be in and we just wanted to entertain them. I think there was a bit of spin out there but I think my bounce was key to be honest. I didn’t get a lot of spin. I think it was more my bounce so I’m just glad it worked out well for me.
“What an amazing player (Joe Denly) is. I saw he was second leading run scorer in the Vitality Blast and he showed his class again today. It’s amazing to watch.
“It’s always good hitting the winning runs for your team. It was good to have Billings there with me, trying to keep me calm and stuff. We had good game plans and it worked. We knew (Steven Finn) he was going to come on and we didn’t want to give him a lot of wickets. I thought we played him quite well.
“It’s all about momentum. The T20’s all about momentum. We’re out of the competition and I thought we were a bit unlucky in the first couple of games. They didn’t go our way but that’s T20 cricket. One guy can take it away from you at times but I’m pretty sure the boys will be back.”
Sussex’s Ravi Bopara said: “We knew it was going to be difficult once the ball gets soft and on that wicket, which was a turning wicket, we made a good start. We were happy with 160 and I think speaking to some of the Kent boys they thought 160 was a big score. But I don’t think we started well with ball, especially with the seam department.
“The spinners bowled really well today but they just weren’t backed up by the rest. We had Rashid Khan on at one end, which does help, but we just didn’t bowl well enough. We didn’t field well enough. We dropped catches and all those sorts of things. We gave away a lot of twos when we could have played a bit more smart cricket.
“Last night was definitely in the back of our minds. It only takes a couple of good balls and suddenly you’re back into the lower order with Rashid Khan with six balls up his sleeve – but we didn’t make it happen.”
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