The Kent Spitfires ended their Twenty20 southern group qualifiers with a dismal 60-run defeat at the hands of Surrey yet still qualified for the quarter-final stages for the first time.
Chasing Surrey’s mammoth total of 217 for four Kent crumbled under the pressure and in front of a season’s best crowd of 7,000 and succumbed for only 157 with a top score of only 39.
It left Rob Key’s side to wait on events at Hove where the result between Sussex and Essex decided which three sides from the group would go through to the last eight.
Luckily for the Spitfires Ronnie Irani’s inspired, unbeaten century led to a four-wicket win for Essex allowing Kent into the quarter finals through the back door as one of the best third-placed finishers, together with group winners Essex and second-placed Surrey.
Kent’s reply at St Lawrence had proved something of a damp squib despite being given a blistering start by Andrew Hall.
Playing his farewell game for the season before flying out to join South Africa on their tour of Sri Lanka, Hall gave them a cracking start only for Kent’s top order to crumble away within three overs of the response.
In-form Darren Stevens (2) was first to go when he mistimed a Tim Murtagh slower ball high to mid-on.
Pakistan all-rounder Azhar Mahmood then pulled the rabbit out of the hat for the Brown Caps with a double wicket maiden in Kent’s fourth over.
After hitting 36 from 14-balls Hall’s cameo ended when he toe-ended a pull shot low to mid-wicket.
Then, five balls later, Martin van Jaarsveld pushed to cover point and called Neil Dexter (0) for a risky single only to see James Benning, with one wicket to aim at, throw down the stumps and make it 38 for three.
The collapse continued when Rob Key paddled a catch to square leg to give Murtagh figures of two for 35.
Tiny Matthew Walker gave brief hope with a couple of big hits into the marquees in a cameo 21 from 11 balls only to give up his wicket tamely by driving a slower ball by Clarke straight to mid-on.
Having blotted his copybook in running out Dexter, van Jaarsveld went for his shots and received a life on nine when Nayan Doshi dropped a sitter at long on that allowed the South African to team-up with Tyron Henderson to add 42 in four overs.
Henderson chipped in with four boundaries but, with his score on 24, he picked the wrong length for a cut shot against Doshi and went leg before.
Kent’s No8. James Tredwell also fell to Doshi’s innocuous left-arm spin, he mistimed a sweep shot to be bowled for only two.
Clarke, who had a fine all-round game, then took a skier off his own bowling to account for van Jaarsveld for a top score of 39 from 31 balls after attempting an audacious paddle shot.
In his next over, Patel went in similar fashion but this time keeper Jonathan Batty took the catch and the home crowd were put out of their misery when Amjad Khan went leg before to end the innings and the match with 10 balls remaining.
The reality was, Kent had gone down without much of a whimper.
It was all a far cry from the start of the night when Surrey’s innings started in a whirl of boundaries as Brown Caps openers Benning and Ali Brown left a huge Canterbury crowd hushed as they systematically took Kent’s attack apart for the second time in a month.
With a display of nigh-on faultless clean hitting the daring duo posted 50 within 31 minutes from only 25 balls as the Spitfires bowlers struggled to find a defensive line or length.
Hall and Amjad Khan each conceded three boundaries from their first overs and there was no let up, even after the fielding restrictions elapsed after six overs, by which time Surrey had 76 on the board.
Benning raced to his 50 from 24 balls with eight fours and two sixes and the hundred partnership came up in 31 minutes, so savage was the strokeplay.
The introduction of Henderson for the ninth over led to the first over of the night without a boundary, sadly for Kent there were only two more to follow when Min Patel pegged back the onslaught, albeit temporarily, in the 11th and 13th overs.
Brown’s fun came to an end in the 10th over when he slogged to cow corner off James Tredwell to go for 44 from 29 balls then, three overs later, Benning’s 36-ball innings of 64 finished when he chipped to long-on to make it 132 for two.
Former England batsman Mark Ramprakash crashed 30 from 20 balls before he miscued to long-off then Mahmood bashed 33 from 18 before he played over a full-length delivery from Hall to lose his leg stump.
Patel proved Kent’s most economical bowler and hall clearly their most aggressive, yet for reason’s best know to captain Key he only bowled three of his four-over allocation.
There was still time for Surrey skipper Rikki Clarke and his fifth wicket partner to sprint into double figures leaving Kent to better their Twenty20 best total by 20 to win the game – sadly, they never came close.
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