Fleming's best sets up thrilling finish to NUL season

Kent claimed a share of the Norwich Union League first division lead after defeating relegated visitors Northamptonshire Steelbacks by 26 runs in the final match of the season in Canterbury.

After posting a season's best 284 from their 45 overs, Spitfires limited the Steelbacks to 258 for nine in reply to join Leicestershire Foxes on 46 points to ensure the title race will go to its final day next Sunday.

The victory, Kent's 10th of the campaign, was inspired by their skipper Matthew Fleming who hit a competition-best 125 and went on to claim three for 28 and a spectacular catch to scupper Northamptonshire's stoic reply.

Needing to score at more than a run-a-ball, Steelbacks were given a flying start by Graeme Swann and Michael Hussey, who posted 74 in 10 overs with Swann outscoring his Australian team-mate to play the leading innings with 61 from 44 balls.

Fleming's introduction from the Nackington Road End finally broke the opening stand when Hussey clipped a catch to short mid-wicket and, in Fleming's third over, Swann lost his middle stump after an attempted back-foot force.

Jeff Cook attempted to keep Northamptonshire in the hunt with a stylish 55 scored at a run-a-ball, but he undid all his good work with an ill judged drive to long-off where Mark Ealham took the catch.

Martin Saggers then returned to run through the late order with three for 52 and ensure Kent won at the canter.

Earlier, Fleming promoted himself to a pinch-hitting role to hit only the second league century of his career from 82 balls and with 15 fours.

He featured in stand worth 98 with David Fulton (39), 71 with James Hockley (32) and 56 with Andrew Symonds (31) before finally running himself out for 125.

Breaking the golden rule of never running on a mis-field, Fleming was left diving for his ground in vain as Hussey's throw from deep cover ran him out by a yard.

Ealham's quick-fire 32 was icing on the Kent cake and took the target out of the Steelbacks' reach despite their plucky reply.