David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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Kent 192 for 8 (Denly 110, Cox 45, Green 3-29, Andersson 3-32) beat Middlesex 137 for 8 (Leaning 3-30) by 55 runs
Before Joe Denly set his T20 season to rights in startling fashion at Canterbury, the nationwide batting averages in the Blast did not make attractive reading. Of the players who have made 100 runs or more in this season's tournament, nobody had scored more slowly.
If Kent's defence of their T20 crown was going badly, with defeats in their first five matches, Denly was feeling the pain more than most. For a player with 44 England appearances across three formats, a strike rate of 93.60 per 100 balls was not the sort of outcome he was used to.
He will be feeling a lot better now. His uninhibited 110 from 58 balls on a gripping, used surface, was totally divorced from the difficulties experienced by virtually every other batter in the match, a focused attempt to hit his way into form, and to carry the fight, which paid off handsomely. It swept Kent to the unlikely riches of 192 for 8 and an eventual 55-run win as Middlesex never remotely came to terms with an extremely exacting chase. It was their first win this season in any format.
One win in six is no sort of start in a search for a top-four place, but Kent have too many attributes to be written off with the season not yet at its mid-point. They will want to follow this up against Essex Eagles in Chelmsford on Tuesday as they begin a run of fixtures away from Canterbury.
When form is lost, and the years are creeping by, the wisdom of crowds is best avoided - certainly the sort of crowd that types questions into Google. Enter Denly's name into the search engine and it offered: "People also ask: Is Joe Denly retired?" Ouch, not what you want to hear at 36 when your season has been disrupted with hamstring trouble, you still don't have a run to your name in the Championship, and you are wondering whether you will ever get things on the road.
He put that right by blazing the ball to leg with utter conviction as he registered his fifth Blast hundred. Eighty-nine of his runs flew over the leg-side, including all his six sixes and the majority of his nine fours. He was particularly harsh on the Sri Lanka-born spinner, Thilan Walallawita, and the debutant seamer, Toby Greatwood, who had won an opportunity after five wickets against Surrey 2nds earlier in the week. Luke Hollman was also seen off in a single over of mayhem.
"It's been long overdue - both some runs for myself and obviously that win," Denly said. "It did feel really good. It was nice to go out there and try and play quite freely, try and stay as relaxed as I could. I got a couple out of the middle early on and just kept going. The other night we never really threw a punch against Surrey. Today was just about putting it on their bowlers."
Jordan Cox is another Kent batter who has been struggling for impetus, but he provided able support in a record Kent second-wicket stand of 157 in 14.3 overs, Daniel Bell-Drummond having fallen lbw to the third ball of the match. Any assumption that conditions were easy was scotched the minute that Denly departed, slog sweeping Chris Green to deep midwicket with 18 balls remaining, and Kent lost three more wickets to catches in the deep against Martin Andersson in the space of five balls. Even so, when Jack Leaning was run out for 6, chasing a second off the final ball of the innings, it would have been quite a pessimist who feared that Kent had thrown it away.
As it happened, Kent's spin bowlers proved vastly superior. The South African George Linde and Qais Ahmed, a young Afghan, bowled well enough to suggest they can be at the centre of a Kent challenge that can now gather force.
Stephen Eskinazi briefly threatened before Qais caused him to play on for 30; Linde, who found marked turn at times, had Joe Cracknell caught at deep midwicket and then held a return catch in a deceptively relaxed manner when Andersson drove fiercely back to his right. There were three wickets, too, for Leaning, as Kent made good use of Sam Billings' decision to take first use of a worn surface. Only one batter came to terms with it. As Richard Johnson, Middlesex's coach remarked, it was Joe Denly's day out.