Northeast sparkles as Kent get back on course
Kent 174 for 4 (Northeast 90, Bell-Drummond 61) beat Essex 173 for 6 (Pettini 56) by six wickets
Sam Northeast's prolific season has failed to win recognition in England's Twenty20 squad for the one-off international against New Zealand at Old Trafford, but he found consolation when his 90 from 52 balls squeezed Kent to a six-wicket victory against Essex at Canterbury. Kent went second, behind leaders Hampshire on run-rate. But it was tighter than it should have been.
Kent were cruising towards their target of 174: 47 to win from six overs with nine wickets left and Northeast and Daniel Bell-Drummond sharing a second-wicket stand of 122 in 13.2 overs. But next ball Graham Napier bowled Bell-Drummond for 61, there was a canny over from Ravi Bopara and suddenly the requirement was 19 from 12 balls and Northeast, the leading run-scorer in this season's competition, was facing the unpredictable pace of the Australian, Shaun Tait.
The first ball was a full toss, Northeast hoiked it through mid-on for four, and when three further boundaries followed from the next three balls - a pull to fine leg, a backing-away smear through extra-cover and a hit down the ground, the game was Kent's. Northeast clipped the fifth ball of the over to short midwicket with the scores level but Alex Blake completed the victory the next ball.
Kent's T20 season is motoring again. That England will one day come looking at Northeast seems likely, although competition is hot at the top of the order. Kent will hope they watch him on Finals Day. "I took the captaincy over when I was in a good place and that was important," he said. "It has gone from there. We play on some really good pitches here at Canterbury, we want to play an attacking style of cricket and these wickets are allowing our batters to do that."
Reece Topley, the third left-arm quick called up by England in recent weeks, as much in hope as expectation, arguably answers a more pressing need. There has been David Willey, fulfilling the desire for attacking cricketers but so far with little to show for it, in the ODI series against New Zealand; Mark Footitt, the leading wicket-taker in the country in 2014, summoned to the pre-Ashes camp in Spain; and now Topley, whose call up for England's T20 squad against New Zealand was delivered by phone to his father, Don, who had just woken up from a post-lunch nap and, by his own admission, took a while to show the requisite excitement.
Topley has the ability to swing the ball back. He certainty has the tattoos. It is to be hoped that he no longer has the injuries that, at 21, have so disrupted his early career. But after claiming the early wicket of Joe Denly, he surrendered to the dominance of Northeast - who got off the mark by striking David Masters straight for six - and Bell-Drummond on an increasingly nonchalant run chase.
Essex might have hoped to push Kent harder, their 173 for 6 challenging, but not as daunting as they might have hoped. Both Hampshire and Gloucestershire had bullied the Kent attack in recent times, making light of challenging scores. That Kent's batting is where the excitement lies seemed a fair conclusion from the evidence so far. It is excitement worth sampling.
That would have encouraged Essex to have visions of 200 after Jesse Ryder got them off to a flyer. Mitch Claydon, who had shot to prominence by tying down Chris Gayle with a century to his name, in the final overs at Taunton, was tamed as Ryder helped himself for five successive boundaries.
It was not the most propitious time for Ivan Thomas, a regular in the Championship side this year, to make his Twenty20 debut, but he made a memorable intervention, a slower ball dropping onto Ryder's boot to have him lbw first ball, a pre-meditated sweep defeated. Figures of 1 for 22 in four overs with nine dot balls were a fine effort.
It was Mark Pettini's half-century that held Essex together, assisted by James Tredwell's failure to cling to a sharp return catch on 36, but he lost impetus - and much of the strike - and by the time he perished at deep midwicket against Matt Coles for 56 from 45 balls only 11 balls remained.
Ravi Bopara cut a strangely serious figure, his innings finally threatening to cut loose when Ryan Davies, Kent's England Under-19 wicketkeeper, in only his second T20 match, pulled off a slightly awkward stumping off Darren Stevens.
In Kent's multi coloured kit, the veteran Stevens and the younger, but strikingly hefty Matt Coles, might have been a couple of decorators returning from speed-painting a children's nursery in a myriad of bright colours. That they got the job done efficiently could not be faulted. No need, on this occasion, to summon the Poles.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps