Christian's brilliance fails to end Middlesex slump
Kent 208 for 4 (Blake 58, Northeast 54) beat Middlesex 192 (Christian 129, Griffiths 4-22) by 16 runs
A team's mentality can be fitful, especially in the shortest format, and at the moment, Middlesex's is as fitful as it gets. Losing has become ingrained and not even a truly exceptional innings from Dan Christian could arrest their slump.
This, their fifth consecutive defeat of 2014, extends their losing streak to eight in Twenty20; they are now just one defeat away from equalling the longest losing run in the competition's history.
Christian's astounding knock of 129, which included ten sixes, gave Kent an almighty scare and masked the shortcomings of his team mates but ultimately it was not enough to lift the pitiable Panthers. It was the second highest innings in English T20 by a player on the losing team.
With 18 to win off the final over, David Griffiths held his nerve - and hit his yorkers - to take three wickets in four balls, including that of Christian. A victory that had seemed to be a formality was greeted with a palpable sense of relief.
With every Kent boundary, Middlesex heads dropped further, and with them any slim hopes of rescuing something from another forgettable campaign. Admittedly, they have more pressing issues in the Championship ahead but such form can have knock-on effects.
If Middlesex - Christian apart - were lamentable, Kent were clinical. From the moment Rob Key called correctly, and elected to bat first on a flat track with a short boundary to one side, the hosts were dominant. The idyllic St. Lawrence Ground has not been as buoyant in years as more than 4,000 packed inside to witness another fine performance from their young side.
There was, however, a brief period of consternation. With Middlesex 110 for 6 in the fourteenth over, the contest was all but over. Christian, though, was only getting started. With others falling around him, he played with no inhibitions, opening his shoulders to play what must have been the innings of his life.
Twelve fours and ten sixes tells its own story but the way the Australian proceeded to dismantle the Kent bowlers was breathtaking. He was particularly strong on the leg side, shuffling across his stumps to fully utilise the short boundary down the slope, and dispatched anything within reach to the fence.
There was a point when every delivery was disappearing. He brought up his maiden T20 century with a heave towards the Canterbury tree but his celebrations - or lack thereof - on reaching the landmark told its own story.
While Middlesex's overseas star so nearly earned his dollar, the Spitfires' match winners were homegrown. Sam Northeast, Sam Billings and Alex Blake all tucked into some inviting bowling as they clubbed Kent's second highest T20 total of 208 for 4. But, in Key, Darren Stevens and Doug Bollinger they have a masterly core. This was very much a collective effort by Kent and that ultimately proved the difference.
In truth, it should have been a lot more straightforward. Morgan - characteristically effervescent at the toss, claiming his side could still progress - tried to lift his troops in the field but there was no reaction. Key picked up where he left off the previous night - he scored an unbeaten 89 at the Ageas Bowl - in depositing the bowling to all parts and when he was dismissed for 36, he had provided the platform for Canterbury's fledging stars.
Blake, a compact left-hander, was particularly impressive, as he scored his maiden T20 half-century. He put on an unbeaten 71 with Billings, including an audacious reverse hit off James Harris to bring up the 200 - a score which reflected the hosts' superiority. It only just proved to be enough though.
Middlesex were a beaten side from the first over. Having carved Bollinger through backward point, Paul Stirling proceeded to swat the left-armer to deep square leg, Stevens drew Eoin Morgan into a false shot that highlighted his lack of form and Griffiths accounted for Dawid Malan; it was all such a familiar story until Christian's intervention.