Kent breeze past Durham into Twenty20 finals day
Kent 149 for 7 (Denly 31, Key 30) beat Durham 93 (Benkenstein 47, Tredwell 3-18) by 56 runs
The largest crowd at Canterbury since 1993 witnessed a skilful and deeply impressive bowling performance from the home side as Kent brushed Durham aside in a manner befitting a team who have reached Twenty20 finals day for the third year in a row.
What made their performance today all the more impressive, however, was that they themselves struggled with the bat, throwing away another fine start by Joe Denly and Robert Key to reach an underwhelming 149 for 7. Yet they fought back superbly with the ball, firstly through Wayne Parnell, cutting a sizeable hole in Durham's top-order, and then James Tredwell. Durham didn't have an answer.
Parnell cuts a wonderfully aggressive figure as an opening bowler, resembling a youthful Jason Gillespie in beard and brawn, and is no less skillful. His excellence with the new ball continued, removing Phil Mustard with the first ball of Durham's chase when the wicketkeeper slapped ungainly to mid-off. A mouth-watering battle promised: Parnell versus David Warner, the young and outrageously uninhibited Australian, but Parnell won that battle comfortably, luring him into a loose drive outside off. Parnell had 2 for 8 off his first two overs.
Simon Cook replaced him and immediately bowled a full length - too full for Geraint Jones, who let through four byes - but England's former wicketkeeper reminded everyone of his sporadic brilliance with the gloves to produce a sublime stumping a few balls later, whipping off the bails to remove Kyle Coetzer for 12. With the wickets came panic. What should have been an easy single on the leg-side turned into a horrible, jittery run that left Ian Blackwell short of his ground, as Cook at short fine-leg threw down the stumps. Durham were in disarray.
All eyes on their captain, Will Smith, to assert some semblance of calm on proceedings, but his desperate slice was cleanly taken by Denly, running backwards from point, while Gareth Breese holed out to Tredwell in the spinner's first over. Durham weren't simply facing defeat, but an outright rout at 39 for 6.
Like a wizened sage, Dale Benkenstein offered the visitors the vaguest of chances with several meaty blows, including a savage pull into the burger van at midwicket, but these were the last smouldering embers of an innings which never truly caught fire. Tredwell's full length and quick change of pace castled Harmison, and Benkenstein was left stranded, a little bemused at his team-mates' ineptitude, and ultimately gutted.
Durham were on the money with the ball earlier, however. But where the two innings differed lay in the Kentish openers' initial glitzy success, and the ugly lower-order heavies of Justin Kemp and Ryan McLaren. Denly and Key have done it so often for Kent and have that inherent, unspoken understanding that successful opening partnerships rely upon, and that was again obvious today with frequent stolen singles in addition to classy boundaries down the ground.
Key dispatched Liam Plunkett's fourth delivery into the burger and chips fraternity at midwicket for the day's cleanest maximum, as he and Denly scorched 50 in six overs of clean-hitting. Durham fought back gainly through Mitchell Claydon - not his bowling, but his catching. Square of jaw, and squarer of build, he doesn't resemble one of Australia's most natural athletes, but pulled off three highly impressive snaffles, two of which were taken diving forward and to his right at long-on to dismiss both openers.
Ben Harmison impressed in the absence of his brother, Steve, picking up 3 for 24 in a controlled spell, but Kemp used his long levers to muscle vital lower-order runs while McLaren slice-smashed Neil Killeen for four, in between scampering singles like a frightened whippet. With 21 from 13, he heaved Kent to what was an underwhelming total for a team of such talents, but ultimately it was enough for one with such a potent bowling attack.
For the third year in a row, Kent have reached Twenty20 finals day. It's nothing less than they deserve.
Will Luke is assistant editor of Cricinfo