Kent's dream of sampling the razzmatazz of Twenty20 finals day were shattered at Grace Road as Leicestershire cantered to a nine-wicket quarter final win in front of a 6,000 sell-out crowd.
The winners of the Northern Conference qualifying group showed why they have reached finals day in each of the first four seasons of Twenty20 competition with and consummately professional performance that quite simply blew Spitfires away.
The home seamers bowled tight lines, their fielders remained sharp throughout to take two awesome catches and a effect a dramatic run out, after which their batsmen showed just what sensible game plans can achieve.
On an evening when Kent were again made to look like Twenty20 beginners, Foxes cantered to victory with ?? balls to spare off the back of an opening stand of 105 between Hylton Ackerman and Darren Maddy that simply took what little wind was left in Kent’s sails.
Leicestershire made a steady start to their reply as they set about chasing Kent’s 153 for five at an asking rate of 7.7 an over.
South African Ackerman and former England batsman Maddy took a no frills approach at first in the face of some accurate new ball bowling from Tyron Henderson and Amjad Khan, who both mixed their pace well.
The hosts struggled for early boundaries and the asking rate started to creep up until Ackerman took a grip with consecutive boundaries through backward point off Henderson.
Key then introduced one-day seamer Neil Dexter in a bid to take pace off the ball, but he too went for 12 as the East Midland’s county continued to accelerate.
In desperate need of a breakthrough, Key turned to Dwayne Bravo down the Bennett End slope but, on his Twenty20 debut the West Indian all-rounder conceded a four off his first delivery.
With 11 overs left and the target already down to two figures, Min Patel bowled Kent’s first over of spin but he erred down leg side and was swept for nine as Maddy continued to keep his side in touch with the asking rate.
Ackerman was first to his 50 from 36 balls with seven fours then Maddy followed him to the milestone from the next delivery, his 50 coming from 41 balls.
Patel finally broke the stand by bowling Ackerman around his legs when he attempted to sweep one that turned out of the bowlers’ foot-marks, but in came former St Lawrence favourite Paul Nixon to rub salt in Kentish wounds.
The tigerish left-hander reverse swept at will and cleverly manipulated the ball into the spaces to reach an unbeaten 17 while Maddy finished on 79 not out from 59 balls, scoring 46 in boundaries to leave Key and his side utterly frustrated.
Having complained that Sunday’s Pro40 innings at Guildford lacked urgency Kent skipper Key promoted himself to open the innings only to last three ball of the first over from Stuart Broad.
The gangly 20-year-old England A seamer extracted a little extra bounce from the Pavilion End as Key aimed a push drive only to edge to former Kent keeper Paul Nixon.
Key was replaced by regular one-day opener Dexter but with his score on five he also fell to Broad courtesy of a stunning catch at mid-on. Running back toward the pavilion in pursuit of a skied drive, Kolpak signing Claude Henderson caught the ball at full stretch, it popped from his grasp as he hit the floor, but Henderson grasped it back and the catch was confirmed as good by third umpire Nigel Cowley.
In the next over from Adam Griffith, Tyron Henderson, promoted to add impact at No4., duly obliged with a glanced four and a flat, straight six but, after scoring 10 from four balls, Henderson dawdled after being called through for a leg bye and was comfortably run out by a direct hit from cover point by another ex-Spitfires player David Masters.
The collapse continued when Hinckley-born Darren Stevens, having hit 14 from as many balls back on his old ground, skied an attempted cut off Broad only to see Masters pull off another stunning, running, diving catch that made it 31 for four in the fifth over.
Fifth wicket partners Martin van Jaarsveld and Matthew Walker regrouped and saw off Broad after a stunning four-over stint of four for 13, but then had trouble getting the Foxes’ left-arm spinner Henderson off the square.
They then faced spin at both ends with the introduction of home skipper and off-spinner Jeremy Snape who released the pressure slightly by allowing Kent to take nine off his opening over.
Henderson’s naggingly accurate four overs cost 19, after which Spitfires looked to kick on as van Jaarsveld took consecutive boundaries off Snape to post the 100 after 14.3 overs.
Van Jaarsveld further upped the tempo in the 17th over from Masters, when the South African reached his half-century from 33 balls and celebrated by taking another 15 off the over including a straight six.
The duo posted 117 in 15 overs before the fun ended in the final over from Griffth when van Jaarsveld, having hammered 75 from 46 balls, pulled a full-toss straight into the hands of Jim Allenby on the ropes at deep square-leg.
Walker tried to push on from the last five deliveries, but his timing continued to elude him and he miscued his last gasp efforts to finish with 39 from 47 balls and with only two fours.
He had helped restore some Kent pride after such a dismal start, yet the Spitfires still fell seven short of the average Twenty20 score for Grace Road.
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