Hampshire’s multi-faceted attack combined to engineer a startling Kent collapse and get their team off the mark in this year’s T20 Blast.
Batting first at the behest of visiting skipper Sam Northeast, the home side’s 158 looked short of a competitive total, even more so given the facile manner in which Kent chased down 198 to beat Somerset a fortnight ago.
That suspicion appeared to have been confirmed when Daniel Bell-Drummond and Joe Denly joined in an enterprising opening stand of 75 in the first ten overs of the Spitfires’ chase. But the dismissal of Denly revived the hosts, who have reached the tournament’s finals day in each of the past six years.
The wickets were shared between six Hampshire bowlers as the away side slumped to 149 all out.
Hampshire’s total was built around Michael Carberry’s 54, an innings that was an object of steady accumulation, sprinkled with an occasional glimpse of the former England opener’s crisp striking, particularly through the offside.
Current man of England James Vince’s return to Hampshire colours proved a decidedly short-lived affair, however. Opening on his return to the Ageas Bowl, the home skipper looked in pristine touch when he effortlessly steered David Griffiths through the covers early in the third over. Three balls later, however, when Vince tried to repeat the trick he carelessly slapped into the hands of Alex Blake – so departing for seven and presenting former Hampshire man Griffiths with a prized early scalp.
Jimmy Adams, in at first drop, initially capitalised on an early let-off, when the left-hander followed up a splice which landed harmlessly short of extra cover by lifting Ivan Thomas high over the wide long-on boundary, and then guiding his next delivery through the covers.
But with Kent skipper Northeast continually rotating his attack, Matt Coles’ second coming proved more fruitful than his first. The former England Lions player had earlier suffered the ignominy of watching Carberry scoop him over fine leg’s head. Adams, however, facing the first ball of the eighth over, fell short in his attempt to hit his second maximum of the night, steering his former Hampshire colleague down long leg’s throat.
Carberry’s lofted boundary off James Tredwell saw the home side tick over to 66 at the halfway point of their innings. And although Adam Wheater’s miscue to backward point soon handed Coles a second wicket, the wicketkeeper’s dismissal for six merely heralded the arrival of Shahid Afridi to the crease.
Five years after he last played for Hampshire at this ground – when he was dismissed for nought in a T20 Blast quarter final against Durham – the 36-year-old was swiftly into his stride. Darren Stevens went for eight from the first three balls he sent down to the enterprising Pakistani. In the following over Tredwell was forced to take evasive action as Afridi contemptuously thrashed the off-spinner straight back down the pitch.
But Afridi was gone in the 16th over, bowled sweeping across the line to Fabian Cowdrey.
Darren Sammy – on his Hampshire debut and in his first appearance since leading the West Indies to World T20 glory in April – announced himself with a blistering drive through the offside, but the home team’s innings would quickly lose its way.
Carberry didn’t get enough on a drive off Thomas, enabling Coles to scurry in off the boundary to complete a terrific low catch. Cowdrey couldn’t emulate his teammate, however, haring in to try and pouch Sammy off the very next delivery, but only succeeding in helping the ball over the ropes.
But Hampshire were soon another wicket down, Sean Ervine failing hopelessly to scoop Thomas over the keeper’s head, instead sending the ball lolloping lazily into Sam Billings’ gloves.
Sammy marked the conclusion of the penultimate over by putting a dent in Griffiths’ figures with a huge hoik for six. Nevertheless, the Windies’ skipper’s cameo ended when he skied Coles to Denly on the offside, and the bowler’s productive outing was completed when Liam Dawson drove straight to Cowdrey at long-on.
Kent’s destructive opening pair raced from the traps, Denly and Bell-Drummond picking up where they left off a fortnight ago, when the duo shared in a riotous stand to flay Somerset for 150.
Kent’s 50 came up in the sixth over, bowled by Tino Best, who gave the dominant duo the hurry up more than once, without coming close to a breakthrough. Indeed, Best’s second over was most notable for Denly’s glorious stroke play, two crisply timed clips off the right-hander’s legs bowing in quality only to his wonderful straight drive off the charismatic Bajan.
Dawson finally split the openers in the 10th over, the slow left-armer pushing one through Denly’s defences with the score on 75.
Afridi followed suit by removing Northeast in similar fashion for two. And when Gareth Berg had Billings, returning from his stint with Delhi Daredevils in the IPL, trapped plum in front, Kent had lost three wickets for 11 runs.
Stevens hit a rapid 18, including one terrific maximum off the otherwise miserly Dawson, before missing a full toss and falling leg before to Sammy. And Kent were rocking when Blake had no answer to Sammy’s slower ball, the batsman offering up a simple return catch to send the wily Saint Lucian on a celebratory sprint, his teammates in pursuit.
Cowdrey kept out the hat-trick ball – and survived Berg’s huge shout for an lbw in the next over.
Bell-Drummond tried to take the fight back to Hampshire, but eventually succumbed to the growing pressure. The 22-year-old was stumped off an Afridi wide, with next man in Coles promptly directing the leg-spinner’s subsequent delivery straight to Dawson at long-off.
Cowdrey, for the second time, negotiated a hat-trick ball – but in the 18th over the batsman was pinned in front by Andrew for eight.
Even Sammy pulling up during the 19th over couldn’t spoil Hampshire’s night, Best returning to complete his compatriot’s over and castling Tredwell.
With 16 needed off the final over, Griffiths deposited Berg back over his head for a maximum. But the bowler had the final say, removing the tail-ender with a terrific yorker to seal a most unlikely nine run victory for a delirious home team.