Young guns Sam Billings and Alex Blake led the way with the bat as Kent Spitfires crushed Sussex Sharks by seven wickets in front of a Hove full house to leapfrog their local rivals and go top of the NatWest T20 Blast’s South Group table.
Blake finished 52 not out from 32 balls and Billings was unbeaten with a 24-ball 39 in an unbroken fourth wicket stand of 91 in 8.3 overs as Sussex’s 136 for 8 was made to look totally inadequate as Kent’s seventh victory in ten group games arrived with a thumping 5.4 overs to spare.
But it was also a good night under the floodlights on the sultry South Coast for Kent’s old dogs, James Tredwell and Darren Stevens, who combined to take three wickets for 40 runs from eight skilful mid-innings overs after Sussex had been put in.
A 6,500 crowd were frustrated that Sussex’s batsmen underperformed on a blissful evening but at least they were entertained royally by Billings and Blake, who between them collected 11 fours and two sixes with some exhilarating hitting.
Both batsmen reverse-swept Will Beer for fours of remarkable power, and 25-year-old Blake drove Mike Yardy witheringly for four before slashing Tymal Mills and lofting Beer for further boundaries. The left-hander then topped the lot by swinging Beer for a mighty six over wide long on.
Billings, 24, who had warmed up by pulling and extra cover driving Chris Liddle for fours in the seventh over, welcomed the left-arm seamer’s return to bowl the 13th by smashing him high over long on for six as the youthful pair made light of coming together with Kent on 46 for three.
Daniel Bell-Drummond leg-glanced the first ball of Kent’s reply for four but top-edged to deep mid wicket at the end of the over, and Sam Northeast slapped an Ollie Robinson long hop to extra cover on 13 in the middle of a fifth over that still cost the bowler 16 runs as Fabian Cowdrey, promoted to open because of Joe Denly’s side strain, struck him for a six and two fours.
Cowdrey, however, slogged Beer’s leg spin to mid on after reaching 23 from just 11 balls and it was left to Billings and Blake to hurry Kent to their modest target.
Sussex lost the wickets of openers Luke Wright for 12 and Chris Nash for 13, and never really got going. Wright lofted Mitch Claydon straight for six, survived a hard chance to deep mid off next ball – his powerful drive still went for four – and then mishit the next ball to Stevens coming in from long off, while Nash flicked a ball from seamer Ivan Thomas straight to short fine leg.
The early loss of captain Wright, in particular, so far their chief source of runs in the competition this season with 430 from 11 innings, seemed to deflate Sussex and, despite Matt Machan’s 32-ball 39, they struggled in the middle overs against accurate bowling from the wily pair of 33-year-old Tredwell and 39-year-old Darren Stevens.
As they have done so often before, Tredwell and Stevens put a stranglehold on the scoring rate, while also taking three wickets between them as Sussex limped from 44 for two at the end of the six-over Powerplay to 82 for five in the 13th over.
Craig Cachopa did manage to swing Tredwell to mid wicket for four but, next ball, top-edged to short long leg to depart for 11. George Bailey, the Australian overseas signing, made just 2 before being deceived by Tredwell’s off spin and stumped, while Machan hit Stevens to long on after a good contribution containing five fours.
It got worse still for Sussex when Beer, on 6, picked out long off in Cowdrey’s first over of low-slung left-arm spin, and it was 112 for seven in the 18th over when Claydon returned to see Robinson flip a reverse lap to Adam Ball at short fine leg.
Harry Finch, a 20-year-old batsman from Bexhill, hit Matt Coles straight for six and also included two fours in a useful 35 not out from 28 balls, and Yardy pulled the penultimate ball of the innings for four to go to 9 before having his stumps spread-eagled by Claydon trying to flick the final ball to long leg.
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