Blake blasts Kent to audacious win
Kent 178 for 5 (Blake 71*, Northeast 60*, Smith 3-24) beat Hampshire 172 for 6 (Vince 66) by five wickets
Chris Wood was the man miked up to the commentary box when Hampshire were fielding and, with Kent reeling at 70 for 5 chasing 173, he was asked by the commentators how he felt his team were faring. Wood managed just a sentence before his microphone cut-out: "one wicket should do it."
Less than 45 minutes and ten overs later Kent were still five wickets down as Alex Blake latched on to a Yasir Arafat short ball, sending it over deep midwicket for six to seal a quite remarkable five-wicket victory. Blake, who finished with a career-best 71 not out from just 30 balls, and captain Sam Northeast, who finished 60 not out from 49, combined to put on 108 runs and pull off an outstanding heist against one of the most consistent and clinical T20 teams in the country, putting Kent top of the South Group having played two matches.
Even at the beginning of the 15th over of the chase, when Blake and Northeast had been together for four overs, there seemed to be little sense of concern among Hampshire's fielders with Kent requiring a steep 76 runs from 36 balls. It was then that Wood, of all people, was taken for 18, Blake striking a four and a six before Northeast too hit a four. That began a sequence of five consecutive overs that went for more than ten runs.
Blake and Northeast, clearly used to the pitch and already running well, cut loose, plundering 63 runs from 32 balls, including eleven boundaries, to carry Kent to a thrilling victory. Hampshire looked shell-shocked as they wandered disconsolately off the field.
Really, Hampshire only had themselves to blame. Northeast and Blake played stunning innings, slashing and heaving the ball on both sides of the wicket with fierce power; but they should never have been allowed to do so, even once Kent's position had improved to 115 for 5. Hampshire allowed the match to drift when it should have been killed off, as Northeast and Blake played themselves in. The field was not set back, but neither did James Vince capitalise on having Kent five down for so few. Hampshire left the door ajar and Northeast and Blake barged through it.
Vince, speaking after the match bemoaned Hampshire's fielding, which deteriorated under the onslaught. Michael Carberry dropped an admittedly difficult chance in the outfield just as the balance of power was shifting. But it wasn't only the fielding, Hampshire's death bowling too wilted in the fire of the attack. For a team seeking their sixth successive Finals Day and with a win percentage and win tally bettered by only one other team in the country, the final quarter of the match was strangely un-Hampshire-like. Even stranger when you consider how clinical they had been until that point.
After winning the toss and batting first, a splendid 43-ball 66 from Vince, who played some typically compelling shots, dominated Hampshire's 172 for 6, which seemed for so much of the match to be comfortably a winning score. Vince's opening partner Carberry played a valuable role also, boring a hole into Kent's bowling attack, striking two fours and two sixes in an energising cameo that reaped 20 runs and ignited Hampshire's innings to leave them 40 for 1 after just three overs.
Although Jimmy Adams fell for just 1, a busy 26 from Owais Shah carried Hampshire past 100, and even when they threatened to throw away their strong start, losing 3 for 24 in the middle overs, Adam Wheater and Will Smith combined to haul Hampshire to respectability and beyond with some pugnacious and typically phlegmatic lower-order hitting.
Smith removed Daniel Bell-Drummond with just the fourth ball of the innings and when Danny Briggs took his 99th wicket in domestic T20 in England in the fifth over, to leave Kent 39 for 2, it seemed as if Hampshire had had their scare for the day. Kent's troubles worsened a few overs later when Sam Billings was run out and even more so when they lost Darren Stevens and Fabian Cowdrey in the space of three balls before the halfway point. After ten overs of Kent's chase the match, it seemed, was almost won. But Hampshire remained only one wicket away.
Freddie Wilde is a freelance T20 journalist. @fwildecricket