Kent 227 for 7 (Northeast 115, Bell-Drummond 51, Thomas 3-46) beat Somerset 224 for 7 (Gayle 151*) by three runs
Chris Gayle's remarkable century on his home debut for Somerset was all in vain as Kent won by three runs in an extraordinary NatWest T20 Blast match at the County Ground.
He struck 10 fours and 15 sixes in an unbeaten 151 off 62 balls. However, despite an innings that should have been good enough to win any game, Gayle finished on the losing side.
The last over started with 17 needed, but Gayle did not have the strike; it took two balls to get it back as Sohail Tanvir was dismissed then Jamie Overton scampered a single. That left 17 off four - not impossible by Gayle standards - and it came down to 10 off two when Mitchell Claydon, who amid the carnage produced an outstanding four overs, found a priceless dot ball which meant the final-ball six, Gayle's 15th, did not change the outcome.
For the first half of the game it looked likely to be another name would be taking the headlines as Sam Northeast made a career-best 114 off 58 balls.
Matthew Maynard, the Somerset coach, said: "I thought Sam Northeast played a sensational innings, but then the World boss came in and it's different gravy. However, good Sam's innings was it just pales a little bit. But that's what Chris can do.
"We saw him in Essex the other day and today was an even more incredible performance. Words can't explain exactly what we have seen today. He makes it looks so easy and strikes the ball so cleanly. His knock almost brought off an incredible win today, but it just wasn't to be."
Batting first, Kent lost Joe Denly in the second over, run out by Max Waller with the score on 10 for 1. After that, Northeast and Daniel Bell-Drummond put on a wonderful exhibition of batting.
Bell-Drummond, who was dropped on 37, by Overton off Max Waller, reached his 50 in the 10th over but was snapped up by Lewis Gregory, off Waller, off the very next ball.
Northeast continued to make hay as Somerset bowled too short and wide. He struck 14 fours and two sixes before passing three figures in the 18th over. Having led the home attack a merry-dance for the best part of 17 overs, he was one of four batsmen out in the final over as Kent finished on 227 for 7.
Enter Gayle, who made 92 on his first appearance against Essex, and a few other batsmen who largely stood at the other end. The West Indian opener saw Marcus Trescothick hole out to cover off Matt Coles the first ball of the fourth over before watching Peter Trego play on, two balls later. At 22 for 2, Somerset appeared to be staring down the barrel of an inevitable defeat.
Gayle, however, had slightly different ideas and when the Jamaican struck three giant sixes in eight balls, the host county were on their way.
James Hildreth, whose form in four-day cricket has been exemplary so far this summer, refused to remain in the shadow of Gayle and played his part in a partnership of 113 in nine overs. However, the locals had come to the County Ground to see Gayle and they left with plenty over which to enthuse.
The left hander struck five fours and four sixes in reaching 50 off 29 balls and continued to make light of a Kent attack that simply had no answer. He put three balls into the River Tone and as many into the St James' churchyard.
Hildreth departed in the 13th over, for 29, with Somerset still needing 93 to win and Jim Allenby followed off the second ball of the 16th over with 63 still required. However, Gayle went through three figures off just 45 balls and kept Somerset in with a chance until the penultimate ball. It was the sixth highest individual score in the history of Twenty20 cricket.
Northeast, while delighted with victory, was left in awe. "I don't know where to start. It was an incredible game and Chris' innings was one of the best things I have ever seen. But special credit has to go to our bowlers who stuck to their plan and kept believing.
"We were trying to get the other batters on strike, but you miss your length against him and it goes out of the park. When the opposition needs 15 an over, you kind of think it's game over. But when Chris is out there and it went up to 20 needed off each over, you still know that he can do it. He is an incredible player."