Kent 171 for 6 (Leaning 55*, Plom 3-32) beat Essex 167 for 9 (ten Doeschate 52, Klaassen 3-36) by four wickets
An unbeaten county-best 55 by Jack Leaning helped Kent to hold their nerve and land a four-wicket win with only two balls to spare over south group rivals Essex Eagles in Canterbury.
Leaning, a winter recruit from Yorkshire, kept a cool head toward the end of a shaky Spitfires run-chase to clinch Kent’s fifth qualifying win and secure Kent’s second place behind current south group leaders Surrey, who Kent play at The Oval on Sunday.
Needing 168 for victory at an asking rate of 8.4 an over, Spitfires lost Zak Crawley in the fourth over when Jack Plom pegged back off stump with his first delivery after Crawley missed an expansive straight drive.
Joe Denly plunder two fours off Plom then pulled a Sam Cook bouncer over the mid-wicket ropes for Kent’s first six as the hosts reached 46 for 1 at the end of their Powerplay – 14 runs short of Essex at the same stage.
Denly tossed away his wicket for 23 by lofting a drive against Aron Nijjar straight to long off, then Simon Harmer struck with his fourth ball by having Heino Kuhn caught behind when cutting.
Sam Billings, back in the Kent side after his ODI century for England against Australia, also showed early intent. He reverse swept for four against Harmer and followed with a straight six, three balls later off the same bowler as Kent moved to 78 for 3 at half-way.
Bell-Drummond’s stay ended for 25 when his leg-side slog against Plom was caught at cow corner, then three balls later, Plom bounced Billings as the England batter advanced down the pitch to have him caught behind off the gloves when hooking for 18.
An Alex Blake six helped Kent into three figures in the 14th over leaving Spitfires to score 65 off the last 36 balls of the match.
Blake clipped Cook for another six then launched into a blistering cover-driven four drive against Matt Quinn to reduce the target to 42 off 24.
Leaning combined with Blake to add 67 off 44 balls but, with 21 needed, Blake holed out to deep square against Quinn to increase the pressure.
Leaning pulled Quinn’s final ball for six to post his maiden T20 fifty for Kent from 30 balls and leave Spitfires to score nine off Plom’s final over.
Leaning cut four through extra cover leaving Grant Stewart to finish it with a mighty six, picked up off a full-toss and clipped over mid-wicket. Plom had tried his best and finished with creditable, competition-best figures of 3 for 32 as Leaning strode off, unbeaten with 55 off 32 balls.
Batting first having won the toss in glorious conditions, Eagles’ openers Cameron Delport and Tom Westley gave their side a flying start, only for Spitfires to battle back and restrict the visitors to a 20-over total of 167 for nine
Cracking nine fours and a six between them, Delport and Westley posted a rapid 50 stand from only 29 balls with the latter boasting the lion’s share with 39 off 19 balls including seven fours.
Westley had just pulled a Fred Klaassen bumper for the first maximum of the match only to club the next delivery to Crawley at mid-off.
With Essex on 60 for 1 after the Powerplay, Imran Qayyum struck with his fifth delivery to have Dan Lawrence well caught, low down at long on by Alex Blake.
Michael Pepper departed unluckily in the next over, run out when backing up at the non-striker’s end to a blistering Delport drive that Stewart finger-tipped onto the stumps.
Kent’s fightback continued when Billings, returned to the side to keep wicket in place of Jordan Cox, ripped off his right glove to run out Delport with a direct hit to the striker’s end as Essex chanced a risky single to short third man.
Paul Walter added a brisk 19 before slicing an attempted drive against Matt Milnes to Bell-Drummond, then Harmer holed out to long on to gift Qayyum a second scalp.
Former Essex skipper Ryan ten Doeschate showed all his Indian Premier League experience and pulled the innings back together with a 32-ball 50 including three fours and a brace of sixes.
The South African moved to his half-century with a pulled four off Stewart, but was caught behind off the next delivery when flailing at a wide one outside off.
In the final over, Nijjar fell in near identical fashion, then Klassen had Cook caught off a miscued drive at short third man to finish with somewhat flattering figures of three for 35.
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