Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby
Kent 162 for 7 (Billings 56, Bell-Drummond 53, Bresnan 4-26) beat Birmingham Bears 141 (Lintott 41*, Milnes 4-24) by 21 runs
Half-centuries to Sam Billings and Daniel Bell-Drummond helped Kent to a 21-run victory against Birmingham Bears, meaning that Finals Day will be an all-southern affair for the first time in Blast history.
Billings, Kent's captain, was playing only his fourth match for the county this season and termed his fiercest critics "deluded" as he reached his first Finals Day after three previous quarter-final defeats.
"It means everything," he said. "This has always been our hurdle to get over. I haven't been around as much as I would have liked due to England stuff and getting Covid. I was injured a couple of years ago so it's been a pretty weird couple of years. To be back here playing cricket with this team, it means so much. I've been at the club since I was eight. People don't think I care, I think they're deluded to be honest."
Chris Woakes' return to competitive action after seven weeks was a lift for Birmingham - and England - and the early stages of the match suggested that he was going to steal the show. In his first over, he dismissed Zak Crawley and had Joe Denly dropped at slip with a delivery that the England selectors will no doubt hope he can replicate if selected at the Oval in a week's time. Three runs and a wicket off his first over, but that was as good as it was going to get for Woakes, and as it turned out, Birmingham.
Kent's batting line-up is exceptional, comprising a top four of Crawley, Bell-Drummond, Denly and Billings, and on Friday night it was Bell-Drummond and Billings who led the way.
Just one boundary had come off the first four overs before the return of Danny Briggs to the attack prompted Bell-Drummond to dump him over square leg for consecutive sixes. However, just as Kent seemed to be wresting control of the contest, Tim Bresnan had Denly caught on the square-leg boundary to tip the momentum slightly back into Birmingham's favour as the Powerplay ended with the score 46 for 2.
With the bounce making players look rushed, early, late, or just uncomfortable, Bell-Drummond was at ease. He struck three of Kent's five sixes with two sweeps off Briggs and one scarcely believable sweep off Woakes, a normal, 85mph length delivery, slog-swept over midwicket.
However, much to the disappointment of non-Birmingham supporters, Bell-Drummond's innings came to an end in bizarre fashion. Jake Lintott bowled to Billings, who crashed a straight drive back into the base of the non-striker's stumps where it stopped almost stock still. As Bell-Drummond took a pace down the wicket looking for a run that didn't exist, Lintott pounced on the ball with one hand before lunging with the other outstretched to pull the two stumps that remained standing out of the ground.
The responsibility for Kent's innings at that point transferred to Billings and he accelerated well to turn 23 off 22 into 56 off 37.
On the whole, it was a bizarre first innings. Birmingham bowled well, with Bresnan - who took 4 for 26 - and Craig Miles in particular managing to force the issue against a Kent line-up that folded apart from Bell-Drummond and Billings. But the Bears fielded poorly. Four chances were missed as Denly was dropped first-ball, Briggs missed a run-out, Michael Burgess missed a crucial stumping off Billings and Chris Benjamin had a chance at a spectacular catch on the boundary that went down. Combined with the fact that their key wicket of the innings came through a large slice of fortune and the overall opinion at the halfway stage was one of a shoulder shrug.
Birmingham's reply was greeted with the sound of Billings barking support to his bowlers.
"Highest dot-ball percentage in the comp this lad!", he yelled about Bears opener Adam Hose. Sure enough the dot-balls started coming. Just three runs came off the first over, four off the second, eight off the third, but so too a wicket, Hose, stumped for eight. At 15 for 1 off three overs, 162 was looking alright.
The stumping, however, was tinged with controversy. The ball appeared to spill from Billings' hands upon contact with the stumps. Given that Hose was well out of his ground when the bails were broken, the square-leg umpire simply nodded in agreement that indeed Hose was out and that was that. It was only upon replay where some questions were raised.
As the innings continued, the slightly sticky nature of the pitch struck again as Benjamin fell to a Matt Milnes length ball that slightly stopped on him and which he spooned straight back to the bowler. Milnes launched the ball into the night sky with a yell that told of the importance of the moment. Benjamin, having scooped the first ball of his innings for four, appeared to be in the mood, but his departure saw Birmingham finish the Powerplay at 40 for 2 and Kent's 162 was still looking alright, just.
Qais Ahmad entered the attack and immediately took the wicket of Robert Yates. "We like this match-up!", yelled Billings moments before the ball had crashed into the stumps.
Soon after, Jack Leaning's occasional offspin took the vital wicket of Sam Hain, who was struck plumb in front, before a rank full toss was missed completely by Will Rhodes and clipped leg stump. At that point, even Billings was stunned into silence.
The six-to-ten-over period had seen a Birmingham capitulation which continued into the eleventh as Burgess hit another full toss to cow corner. Between innings, Bresnan had quipped that the best delivery on this surface was the "pie". Not only had he turned out to be correct, but he was now at the crease alongside Woakes needing 12 runs an over.
Despite a period of slight recovery, the four wickets that fell for 11 runs had effectively ended the contest. Had it not been for a late flourish of 41 off 20 from Lintott, the last rites arguably should have been read out at the moment Woakes was caught at long-on off the bowling of Milnes.
Kent will play Sussex in the semi-finals at Edgbaston on September 18 and Hampshire will face Somerset ahead of the final.