David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
Kent 167 for 7 (Cox 58*, Smeed 43, van der Merwe 3-19) beat Somerset 142 for 9 (Smeed 43, Denly 3-31) by 25 runs
Kent ended a 12-year drought without a trophy with a decisive 25-run victory against Somerset in the final of the Vitality Blast. And no matter how often it might be repeated that they deserved their success because of an all-round squad effort the whole summer long, attention will forever cling to Jordan Cox, who followed up a match-winning innings with a catch that never was and, minutes later, played the starring role in a catch that was so dreamlike it surely never happened.
For Cox, only 20 but much more proven than many of the young players who graced Finals Day, it was a spellbinding day. He sprung to Kent's rescue with a nervelessly-judged, unbeaten 58 from 28 balls (38 coming off his last 11 balls in the final three overs) and then played a central role in two notable "catches" - the first overruled by the combined might of the officials, the second which did not see his name appear in the scorebook.
Blast Finals Day has a different feel to much of the T20 cricket played globally. Only rarely does it satisfy the yearning for big scores and an avalanche of sixes. It is September and squares on all major grounds are fatigued. But a slow pitch held up much better than might have been anticipated and another celebratory capacity crowd at Edgbaston insisted that, whatever uncertainty surrounds the future of county cricket, this tournament has a place in English cricket's hearts.
The final might have swung on an extraordinary moment when Somerset were 71 for 3 off 10.2. Smeed, who had played with impressive sagacity for 43 from 32 balls, appeared to have holed out for 37 at deep square leg, slog-sweeping Joe Denly's legspin. The only problem was that as Cox nonchalantly took the catch, his team-mate, Daniel Bell-Drummond, came sliding in a split second later. Bell-Drummond was touching Cox and Bell-Drummond was touching the boundary marker. Thanks, skip. It was a daisy chain to disaster. After urgent deliberations between the three umpires and the match referee, Smeed was awarded six. It was a dubious ruling.
Make them pay, the rest of Somerset's party would have silently urged Smeed. But three balls later Smeed holed out against Denly, as he clothed a low full toss for Cox once more to trot in and swallow the top-edge. The impassioned fielder allowed himself a few words of retribution, but his most spectacular intervention was still to come. Another swipe to leg from Lewis Gregory off the ageless Darren Stevens, and Cox this time leapt balletically over the midwicket boundary to hang in the air, Cristiano Ronaldo style, and pat back a controlled catch to Matt Milnes. Somerset never looked likely again.
All day, wickets had fallen in the Powerplay and Somerset were no different. Tom Banton, whose game would probably benefit from a winter of reflection, was stumped second ball for nought as Denly found turn for the first time. Lewis Goldsworthy fell to a leading edge. By the end of the 12th over, Somerset were 89 for 5, with Tom Lammonby deeply unfortunate to be adjudged lbw to a big turner from Denly that was sailing past leg stump. Why is the review process not implanted into the final stages of the Blast? Why has it not been implanted for years?
Denly, who had not bowled a full T20 allocation this season, finished with 3 for 31, an excellent accomplice for his fellow legspinner, Afghanistan's Qais Ahmad, who removed Tom Abell and Roelof van der Merwe at low cost. Opportunities abound in T20 cricket for budding legspinners, but it is still largely upstart young batters who are coming through. And Somerset's have temporarily hit a wall.
Kent's 167 for 7 had looked about par. They stated solidly with the bat. Bell-Drummond was struck on the hand first ball, by Craig Overton, more disconcerting than anything he had experienced during his blissful match-winning 82 in the semi-final win against Sussex, but he and Zak Crawley looked a classy opening pair.
Then Roelof van der Merwe intervened. Somerset's fielding was ragged in their own semi-final win against Hampshire and whether they spent the intervening hours sleeping, watching TV or playing video games, they knew they had to raise their game. For Gregory, a captain playing when not fully fit, a back affliction preventing him from bowling, it would be tougher than most.
Smeed started the recovery, clinging to a fast catch at short midwicket to silence Bell-Drummond. But the tour de force came when Denly decided to hit his first ball over long-off for six, quite a gambit even in this era. Abell pelted back from mid-off to hold a stunning catch near the boundary, completed by a full-length dive and recognisable jaw jut of satisfaction. Gregory had wisely moved himself from that position moments earlier.
Remarkably, according to those remarkable minds who research such things, it was Denly's fourth golden duck this year, adding to unproductive days for Brisbane Heat, Lahore Qalandars and London Spirit. He is not thought to have tried to bash all of them out of the ground.
Abell's jaw had hardly returned to its normal position when van der Merwe took his third wicket in his first nine balls, as Sam Billings slapped him to extra cover. Van der Merwe, a dyed-in-the-wool competitor, finished with 3 for 19, whereupon a hard-headed rebuilding policy from Jack Leaning and Cox left ambition until the last few overs.
Leaning, who gave two difficult opportunities to Ben Green, a return catch, and the wicketkeeper Banton, a partially obscured, knee-high stumping that he did not get near, did not see it through, but just as Somerset imagined themselves favourites, Cox began to send legside blows into the night sky, Somerset's seamers vanquished, as Kent set a total to be reckoned with.