Kent 340 for 5 (Billings 118*, Bell-Drummond 73, Cowdrey 51, Blake 50*, Hutton 3-72) beat Nottinghamshire 335 (Taylor 109, Hales 81, Christian 59, Claydon 4-66, Coles 3-54) by five wickets
Sam Billings has played eye-catching innings in a season that has won him England one-day honours, but the brilliant unbeaten century at Trent Bridge in the Royal London Cup to pronounce that Kent's season was not yet dead must surely rank as the most mature and resilient of his career.
Billings' defiant, unbeaten 118 inspired Kent to a successful pursuit of 336 against the previously unbeaten Group B leaders, Nottinghamshire, only 48 hours after the heartbreak of losing a home NatWest Blast quarter-final tie against Lancashire by virtue of losing more wickets with the scores level.
Kent's task is not yet done. They must still win their final tie - an equally daunting match against Warwickshire at Edgbaston on Wednesday - to have a chance of progressing to the last eight and underline their growing reputation as one of the most exciting young sides Kent have produced for many years. Four teams - Kent, Warwickshire, Lancashire and Middlesex - are all locked in equal fourth on seven points.
To face Nottinghamshire, unbeaten in 10 matches, so soon seemed a cruel quirk of a demanding fixture list but Billings' joie de vivre survived the challenge as he struck 118 not out from 89 balls, sharing a sixth-wicket stand of 133 from only 76 balls with Alex Blake which secured a four-wicket win with eight balls to spare. Blake hit the matchwinning six against Luke Fletcher to reach his half-century.
Billings' first fifty came at a run a ball and relied heavily on rasping sweeps - and for variety the occasional reverse sweep - against the spinners. But a six over long-on against Dan Christian suggested he could widen his range and when Blake, a regular ally in the Blast campaign, joined him at 207 for 5 with 14 overs left and, even though the D/L guide on the Trent Bridge scorecard suggested they were nearly 30 runs down, they made light of the target.
Kent also benefited from half-centuries from Daniel Bell-Drummond and Fabian Cowdrey, the latter a particularly spritely effort, although few would have given much for Kent's chances when Bell-Drummond chopped on for 73 against Brett Hutton.
Kent were indebted to a bizarre - indeed, careless - end to Nottinghamshire's innings as their last six wickets fell for the addition of only four runs, in the space of just 10 deliveries with Matt Coles claiming a hat-trick.
To be dismissed for 335 with four balls unused, a daunting target even allowing for a superb batting surface, rather than achieve what seemed to be an inevitable 360-plus gave Kent a lifeline, something that had appeared unlikely from the outset as Alex Hales exposed their Blast hangover in the field with 81, Christian rapped 59 from 44 balls and the redoubtable James Taylor scurried and deflected for the most energetic of centuries, one which should have been good enough for victory.
Christian's belligerent knock ended when he picked out Joe Denly on the midwicket fence from the fifth ball of Coles' ninth over. Taylor then drilled the next delivery straight back into the bowler's midriff for a reflex caught and bowled.
Steven Mullaney and Hutton both fell without scoring in the penultimate over, leaving Coles to get his hat-trick by bowling Luke Fletcher at the start of the last. Jake Ball then set off for a non-existent run to the next delivery, allowing Coles to run him out, his gleeful reaction indicating that Kent's spirits had been roused when Nottinghamshire should have left them down and out.
"It's great to get us over the line," said Billings. "I've sort of hinted at getting that sort of score, so to do it today is great. We knew that if we took it down into the last few overs we'd get close on a good wicket. Every credit should go to the bowlers for what they did at the end. From where Notts were at they probably should have got over 350."
Taylor concurred. "I thought our batting was exceptional for 46 overs but the way we finished our innings cost us massively. Even if we'd just scored an extra 15 or so I think it would have taken us out of Kent's reach. But you have to put your hands up and say well played to Sam Billings. It was an exceptional knock and he put us under pressure throughout."