Kent continue to soar as Somerset face exit
Kent 173 for 6 (Bell-Drummond 77, Denly 61) beat Somerset 151 for 9 (J Overton 31) by 22 runs
This season's NatWest T20 Blast has shown, quite clearly, that it is a myth that England's T20 tournament needs to be played in a block to attract high-quality overseas talent. Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell, Shahid Afridi, the list of star players who have appeared this season is long, illustrious, and that is only a snapshot.
What this season's tournament has also shown, as did last season's Big Bash League, is that a team and a tournament does not necessarily need high-quality overseas talent to be popular and successful. No team embodies this more than Kent.
Kent, to much derision, did not sign a single overseas player for this season's T20 Blast, and yet, following another typically clinical and well-rounded victory over Somerset in front of a large crowd are top of the South Group with 16 points and are well on track for sealing a home quarter-final.
This was a match, like much of Kent's season, that was not won by one man, or by one performance but by multiple, complementary performances, contributing more broadly to a tried and tested strategy.
Nothing represented Kent's confidence in their own method more than the innings of Daniel Bell-Drummond and Joe Denly as the opening pair put on 112. It would have been very easy for either of these two men, emboldened by their starts to look too big, to aim too high, to perhaps, be selfish and look for a century of their own. Instead both men played at a pace appropriate according to conditions, the opposition and the batsmen they had below.
Denly was the first man to fall. Looking to push on with Kent 112 without loss after 13.4 overs he was caught deep on the leg side attempting to clear the boundary-rider. He was, naturally, annoyed to have got out, but there was no anger or worry in his face as he left the middle. He trusted what was to come.
So confident were Kent, they promoted Alex Blake, who had hammered a fifty against Hampshire earlier in the season, to No.3. Blake came and very quickly went. Experiment failed. Move on.
This was again when Bell-Drummond's restraint was key. He recognised that as the settled batsman his wicket was almost worth double. But crucially he did not hold back, rather he just did not do anything reckless. Not scoring and not getting out is probably worse than just getting out. Bell-Drummond was proactive and positive. He struck consecutive fours in the over that Blake was dismissed, and two more in the following over.
Northeast, Kent's standout player this season, managed just 7 from 13 balls, but with Sam Billings next in, there was, again, a sense of calm to Kent's batting, even with them a few short of what they would have wanted with two overs to go, at 166 for 3.
Billings played three remarkable shots in the penultimate over, scoring three leg-side boundaries, all off balls that pitched well outside off stump. Such brilliance epitomised Kent's supremely confident innings. Just seven runs and three wickets came from the final over, including the dismissal of Bell-Drummond for 77, but his innings went beyond numbers. An opener batting through a T20 innings brings a calming presence that the scoreboard does not do justice to.
Somerset captain Alfonso Thomas felt a target of 173 was "a few too many" but it was not one that was beyond a powerful Somerset batting line-up. However given Kent's form and Somerset's comparative struggles, Kent were always favourites.
Indeed not at any point in the chase did Somerset ever seem to be threatening Kent's score. Eleven came from the first over, but with the third going for two and the fourth going for just one Somerset were behind the rate. The pressure of the scoreboard told when they lost Johan Myburgh in the Powerplay before Jim Allenby fell in the eighth and Peter Trego and James Hildreth went in the ninth to leave Somerset reeling at 57 for 4.
It was then that Kent deployed their spinners, James Tredwell and Fabian Cowdrey, and they squeezed the remaining life from Somerset to ensure Kent's victory well before the end of the match. The final over bowled by Matt Coles was, rather anti-climactically and almost comically, slugged for 34 including three no-balls. But it was a mere stain an otherwise superb victory for Kent.
Somerset, who have had Gayle and Luke Ronchi this season - along with Corey Anderson due to play before he was injured - remain in eighth and even if they win all three of their remaining fixtures are unlikely to make it to their quarter-finals.
Freddie Wilde is a freelance T20 journalist. @fwildecricket