Brilliant Bopara takes Essex joint top
Essex 193 for 4 (Bopara 81*, ten Doeschate 47, Ryder 32) beat Kent 189 for 5 (Key 62, Bell-Drummond 48, Mills 3-41) by 5 wickets
Ravi Bopara can shoulder very little of the blame for England's winter failings, but at a time of flux in the Test side he has been pointedly ignored to the fact where adding to his 13 caps has never seemed such a distant possibility.
Bopara's unbeaten 81 from 44 balls offered further evidence for his belief that he is in the best form of his life and by granting Essex victory with one over to spare took them alongside Hampshire at the top of the South Division.
More often than not, on his return to the county circuit, Bopara produces the type of striking performances that raise questions over his in ability to forge a permanent spot across all formats for England. His worth to Essex, however, is rarely belittled.
On the back of a Championship hundred at the same ground this week, Bopara constructed an innings of consummate mastery that had most of the Canterbury crowd, despite their gloom at seeing as formidable Kent total overhauled, heading home satisfied with their evening's entertainment.
Essex made a steep target seem like child's play - admittedly on a true surface - as Bopara combined with Ryan ten Doeschate to dismantle a Kent attack stymied by fielding lapses. Three chances were shelled, the most costly when Bopara was dropped by Daniel Bell-Drummond on 37.
Bopara batted with a swagger that almost made it look as if he hand-picked which deliveries he wanted to dispatch with disdain. A combination brutality, deft strokeplay and inventiveness left Rob Key, the Kent captain, scratching his head.
At the other end, ten Doeschate played the role of subordinate but was equally destructive after receiving a reprieve early-on when Doug Bollinger dropped a straight-forward chance at long-on.
The Essex captain fell a couple short of an opportunistic half-century but Bopara ensured the job was complete without any hiccups. Often labelled 'a finisher', but rarely able to complete the job in an England shirt, he lived up to the tag by striking consecutive boundaries off James Tredwell in the penultimate over and then swatting the winning runs down the ground in fitting fashion.
"It was good fun," Bopara said afterwards. "We went out there with a plan and we executed it brilliantly. I'm in the best form of my life and I've been hitting it well so long may it continue."
For all the attention given to overseas luminaries and T20 specialists, Key continues to demonstrate that conventional batting in the shortest format yields healthy dividends. In scoring a half-century of his own, and in the process moving to the top of the competition's run-scoring charts, he gave his side the perfect platform.
However, the loss of Key succeeded the departure of Bell-Drummond and Essex managed to take a stranglehold of proceedings after the hosts made a blistering start; the openers had put on 119 one ball into the 13th over. But, two wickets in the following over from Tymal Mills in the fourteenth over checked their momentum.
Mills, who bowled with pace, was expensive throughout as he struggled for a consistent line and length but provided an extra dimension to the attack in the second-half of the innings. A couple of late cameos from Sam Billings and Sam Northeast lifted Kent in the final overs but they were well below par; they had scored 218 here last week.
That said, the wicket of Mark Pettini in the first over - an ugly heave across the line - hinted at the extravagance that was going to be required to chase down the tasking total. Instead, Pettini's departure was but a minor hitch as Jesse Ryder and then Tom Westley cracked thirteen boundaries between them in the Powerplay overs to silence the home crowd and provide the platform for the middle-order. Bopara and ten Doeschate did the rest.