Stevens steers Kent to Twenty20 finals
Cup holders Kent made light of a tricky pitch and a 24-hour delay for rain to book their place at Twenty20 finals day for the second year running following Thursday night’s 42-run quarter final win over Warwickshire in Birmingham.
Spitfires overcame a sticky start to the evening through a sumptuous innings 32-ball innings worth 69 by Darren Stevens to set the Bears a testing asking rate of 8.8 an over on an Edgbaston pitch that offered help to seamers and spinners alike.
Bears made a poor start to their pursuit of Kent’s 175-6 when pinch-hitting opener Neil Carter (2) missed an attempted drive to a full-length ball from Yasir Arafat to lose his middle and off stumps.
Jim Troughton (22) and Jonathan Trott took the score on to 40 before a sharp piece of work by Geraint Jones, stood up to Simon Cook, accounted for Troughton after dragging his back foot on the drive allowing the keeper to whip off the bails for a stumping.
In the next over Trott (13) mistimed his drive at a Ryan McLaren slower ball to pick out Matt Walker at mid-on and make it 42-3.
Warwickshire’s hopes were now resting on the powerful shoulders of one-day specialist Darren Maddy but, at 57-3 at the mid-point of their innings, the odds were stacked heavily against him and the Bears.
Tony Frost (8), working to leg against Stevens skied a catch to Ryan McLaren at point who, in the next over, followed through off his own bowling to kick the ball onto the stumps and run out Maddy (27) after Ant Botha called him through for a cheeky yet suicidal attempted leg bye.
Tim Groenewald (1) holed out to deep mid-wicket off Stevens where Joe Denly took a good catch running in and at 81-6 the home crowd had been all but silenced as man-of-the-match Stevens finished his four overs with 2-29.
All-rounder Botha took Bears into three-figures in the 16th over but, with his score on 35, he skied to Rob Key at point to give Arafat a second wicket.
He made that three when Michael Powell (10) picked out Denly at deep mid-wicket in the final over of the night.
On a night when skipper Key opted for an all-seam attack, McLaren’s four overs cost only 22 and Simon Cook finished with 1-33.
Earlier in the evening it was Stevens, the man who hit the winning runs in last year’s final, who inspired Kent’s with a stunning 32-ball cameo.
A sporting pitch made fast scoring difficult at times, but Stevens made light of the testing conditions to batter six fours and five sixes as Spitfires added 99 runs off their last six overs.
Having lost the toss Kent batted first on a pitch that had sat under the covers for the best part of two days; the result was a seamer-friendly wicket with extravagant bounce.
Denly charged down the pitch to loft the first six of the match off Chris Woakes over long-on to move on to 27 but was inexplicably dropped next ball by Warwickshire keeper Tony Frost.
It mattered little, however as, without addition, Denly aimed to drive on the up against Chris Martin and edged through to Frost who this time held on.
Key, on 15, steered a short, wide ball from left-armer Carter straight into the hands of Troughton at backward point then Walker, playing only his second cup tie of the summer, clipped firmly off his hip against Groenewald only to pick out Michael Powell at backward square leg who took the catch at the second attempt.
Seamer Groenewald was replaced by left-arm spinner Botha whose first ball was obligingly slogged down to long off by Arafat (10) where Troughton took the catch without having to move.
With Ian Salisbury to bowl leg-spin at the Pavilion End, this was the worst possible time for Stevens and Justin Kemp to combine forces; both men like the ball coming onto the bat and to hit through the line, so neither looked at home with spin from both ends.
Boundaries dried up for three overs until Groenewald's re-introduction allowed Stevens to free his arms and take two sixes and a brace of fours off the 15th over that cost 22 in total.
With the score on 98 Kemp dragged a Salisbury googlie onto his middle stump to go for nine and end a stand that added 38 runs in five overs.
Stevens and Azhar Mahmood continued to punish anything wayward, Stevens pulled a short one from Salisbury for four then, later that over, Mahmood swept to the ropes at fine leg and drove for six against his old Surrey team-mate as 16 came off the over.
Stevens moved to a stunning 28-ball 50 with five fours and three sixes, the last of which came from a Woakes no ball. The bowler sent down another beamer later in the over and was taken out of the attack by umpire Rob Bailey.
Maddy stepped up to complete the over and, with his first ball, forced Stevens to drag onto off stump and end a stand that added 60 in three only three overs with 33 coming off the penultimate over.
Spitfires added 11 more from Carter's final over of the innings and went in for the short break very happy with their recovery.
Bear’s bowler Woakes will have been less pleased with his 3.3 overs that cost 48 while Groenewald’s three went for 34.
In-form batsman Martin van Jaarsveld missed the game with slight ham-string strain and was replaced by Walker.