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Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Alex Blake upstages Eoin Morgan at Lord's as Kent maintain 100 percent record in Vitality Blast

Alex Blake of Kent bats Getty Images

Kent 204 for 4 (Blake 66*, Kuhn 54*) beat Middlesex 176 for 7 (Viljoen 3 for 32) by 28 runs

On his return to Lord's for a first appearance since the World Cup final, Eoin Morgan was upstaged by a trademark late-innings assault by Alex Blake, whose 29-ball 66 not out maintained Kent's 100 percent record in the T20 Blast.

Put in by a Middlesex side who had started the competition strongly - they registered more wins in their first four games than they managed in the whole of last season - Kent were 90 for 4 after 12 overs when Mohammad Nabi was dismissed, and in danger of throwing away a good start.

But their fifth-wicket pair added 114 in the remaining eight overs, as Heino Kuhn's wristy reverses and Blake's brutish power took them to a score that proved well beyond Middlesex's reach.

Kent's schedule this week is cruel, with three away games in four days followed by a return home two days later: they must have feared that consecutive fixtures at The Oval, Lord's, and Hove as the sort of run that could derail them after a strong start to the season.

And yet they find themselves sitting pretty at the top of the South Group, thanks to the canny recruitment of a cunning, cosmopolitan bowling attack, and two remarkable innings: the first, a 12-ball 43* from Nabi on Tuesday night, and the second by Blake here.

When Blake bats, he resembles a middleweight boxer, spending a couple of rounds sparring and letting his opponent land punches, while he calculates the perfect moment to unleash hell with a counterattack of his own.

The statistics back that up. Since 2017, his strike-rate after ten balls of an innings is 121.97, and he scores at 118.97 in the middle overs (7-15). But at the death he is a different beast: he faces 25 per cent fewer dots, hits a boundary every 4.96 balls, and strikes at 166.88.

It was no surprise then, to see him reach 19 off 14 before slamming 47 off his next 15. The switch was no so much flicked as rammed in with a sledgehammer, as Blake exploded into gear.

Steven Finn, so parsimonious in his first spell, was taken for four sixes in the 18th over, each one nailed with more conviction than the last; Tom Helm was slugged over midwicket for another, and a pair of boundaries off Toby Roland-Jones' final over meant 57 had come from the final three.

"They welcomed back three pretty high-profile names tonight in Morgan, AB and Stirling so we knew they were going to be a tough outfit to beat," Blake said. "But credit to our bowlers, they've been brilliant in these first five games. We seem to have found a bit of momentum, and long may it continue."

Blake's career record hardly does him justice. He spends most of his time languishing down the order at No. 6 or No. 7 in T20, tasked either with slamming boundaries from the word go or needing to produce run-chase magic.

But he is now a seasoned pro at 30, and knows that his strengths are best suited to situations like this. Twice now this Blast campaign he has hauled Kent into winning positions that had looked improbable, and he is a player deserving of greater recognition than has ever come his way.

For all Blake's brilliance, it was hard not to feel for Finn, on a night that he had looked set to make his own, but one he ended with slumped shoulders and ugly figures.

Four years ago to the day, he was enjoying a richly-deserved day off after his 8 for 117 had won England the Edgbaston Ashes Test; on the day another of those started, Finn was to be found steaming in and hitting hard lengths in the middle overs some 120 miles away, to be rewarded with the wickets of Ollie Robinson and Daniel Bell-Drummond.

And then came his return. After a slightly overpitched yorker was carved over backward point for six by Blake, the inevitable over-adjustment came: three short balls outside off, three sixes crunched through midwicket. Goodnight, Steve, and thanks for coming - here's a 25-run over to take home with you.

Middlesex's chase had started with a stutter, as Hardus Viljoen struck twice in the innings' third over, and from there it seemed much would rest on the shoulders of AB de Villiers - returning from a hand injury, with plenty of strapping in the field - and Morgan.

It looked like it might be another de Villiers special when he timed his first ball exquisitely through point, but he plinked to mid-on before the bars had fully emptied out after the interval.

Enter Morgan, whose partnership of 61 with John Simpson had briefly looked ominous - including a couple of sweetly-timed fours off Bell-Drummond - before both fell in the space of an over.

From that point, the game was up. Kent's march on the South Group continues, and with Blake firing like this, they may prove hard to stop.

Middlesex 2nd innings Partnerships

WktRunsPlayers
1st25DJ MalanPR Stirling
2nd4PR StirlingSS Eskinazi
3rd13AB de VilliersPR Stirling
4th23EJG MorganPR Stirling
5th61EJG MorganJA Simpson
6th5JA SimpsonTS Roland-Jones
7th11TS Roland-JonesTG Helm
8th34TS Roland-JonesNA Sowter