Gloucestershire 180 for 3 (Klinger 102*) beat Kent 175 for 8 (du Plessis 60, Billings 55, Higgins 3-36) by five runs
The 'Ben Stokes Effect' was there for all to see at a packed Canterbury on Thursday night as the crowd to see Kent play Gloucestershire far exceeded the number of seats available, leaving standing room only. None were let down as veteran Michael Klinger put on a masterclass in T20 batting as Gloucestershire beat Kent to seal their place in the quarter-finals.
Before this fixture, Gloucestershire and Kent sat second and third respectively in the South Group, equal on 14 points, five points behind group winners Sussex. A win for either side here would guarantee them a quarter-finals berth. However, lose this game and their qualification would come down to a thrilling final Group Stage round on Friday night.
The stakes were high for both teams, but most of all for Gloucestershire, who haven't been to T20 Finals Day since 2007. Incidentally, they lost to Kent in the final of that year's competition. They will have fancied their chances this time around against Kent, who haven't beaten Gloucestershire in a T20 match since 2016.
Keenly aware of the opportunity to break his side's T20 curse, captain Klinger - who is set to call time on his 21-year career at the end of the tournament - produced a display that even the home fans could appreciate. The opener's innings was perfectly paced. The first of his four sixes came in the second over, and he pushed on from there offering no chances as he completed his century off the final ball of Gloucestershire's 20 overs. The Australian finished 102 not out off 65 balls, hitting nine fours to go with his haul of maximums, as his side lost only three wickets on their way to a total of 180.
After Kent lost overseas T20 specialist and off spinner Mohammad Nabi to international duty and overseas quick Adam Milne to injury this week, someone had to step up with the ball. Nobody would have thought that person would be Alex Blake. Blake opened the bowling for Kent, despite the 30-year old never having bowled in a T20 before, and finished with 1 for 17 off his four overs. Gloucestershire were happy to play his flighted off spin for singles, and instead pick apart more established bowlers like Mitchell Clayden, Fred Klaassen and Daniel Bell-Drummond.
Kent's response started badly as they lost both openers within four overs needing some serious rebuilding at 18 for 2. Enter captain Sam Billings and Nabi's replacement signing, South Africa captain Faf du Plessis. Both were going to have to bat well for their side to reach their 181-run target, but instead Gloucestershire fielded badly. Both hit fifties and treated the crowd to some sumptuous strokeplay.
During the middle overs, when Kent should have been restricted, Gloucestershire gave away runs unnecessarily. Overthrows, drops, fumbles onto the boundary rope, the fielding performance had them all. The louder and more frequently the crowd jeered, the more Gloucestershire seemed to misfield. Finally they held a catch to dismiss Billings for 55 - taken by Miles Hammond off the bowling of Ryan Higgins - who claimed 3 for 36. The free-flowing scoring continued, however, and the game had become a nail-biter when it needn't have.
Needing 12 off nine, Blake holed out to long off, and du Plessis fell the exact same way. Kent still needed 12 needed off the final over and it was always going to be difficult against David Payne. The hosts managed only six and must now win at Essex as part of a five-way battle to be decided on Friday night for the remaining two places in the quarter-finals.