Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory; fashioning their own downfall; making a Horlicks of the chase – whatever overworked cliché you want to use, Sussex’s performance would warrant the lot as they fell short by seven runs at the hands of the Kent Spitfires at Canterbury.
Chasing 186 to win, the result had seemed a mere formality for the Sharks at the 12-over stage, with Chris Nash going along nicely alongside the ever-fluent Mahela Jayawardene at 112 for one. Nash’s dismissal changed everything, however, with the Sussex opener watching his leg-stump cartwheel out of the ground to a super delivery from Matt Coles, who had otherwise been expensive.
The wicket seemed to unbalance Sussex in their chase, with work seemingly needed on their batting unit from four downwards, as Craig Cachopa scratched around for 26 from 22 balls, while Matt Machan, Ben Brown and Will Beer faced just six balls between them. Even Jayawardene, often so calm even in the frantic nature of the T20 game, was found guilty of giving his wicket away to allow Coles to claim a second scalp with a full toss.
Credit must be given to the Spitfires’ bowlers, though. Coles and Mitchell Claydon conceded just two boundaries off the bat in the last six overs at the St Lawrence Ground.
Despite their own side making a decent score, the home crowd resonated a soporific-like state. Nash and captain Luke Wright got into their stride quickly, putting on 62 in the six-over Powerplay and 81 for the first wicket, before the latter holed out to Alex Blake in the deep off James Tredwell.
The former England all-rounder displayed the kind of form that saw him gain international recognition, punishing anything off target including despatching a straight six down the ground. His 36 came from just 16 balls.
Wright’s effort was not too dissimilar to that of Joe Denly, another player formerly in the eyes and mind of England, earlier in the piece. The Kent opener unleashed six fours and a maximum from his 24-ball 37 after the hosts had lost Daniel Bell-Drummond from just the seventh ball of the clash, caught behind off Oliver Robinson.
As he has done in the Championship so far this season, with 12 wickets in two games thus far, Robinson impressed with the ball in hand, finishing up with an impressive 3/35 given the batsman friendly outfield on display at the St Lawrence Ground. Had the likes of Ajmal Shahzad and Tymal Mills been fit, then Robinson would have likely spent this match on the sidelines.
Robinson aside, Sussex’s pace unit struggled early on, prompting Wright into his first innovative act as newly-appointed captain, bringing on spinner Michael Yardy while the Batting Powerplay was still in effect. The move proved a masterstroke by Wright, not alone in his decision-making with the experienced Jayawardene by his side. Yardy and Will Beer – who conceded just 19 runs from his four overs, as well as taking the wicket of Sam Northeast – made Kent toil during the middle overs.
In Northeast and Sam Billings, though, Kent have a couple of gems in their side. Devoid of any overseas names in 2015, these two know they will have to step up in order to secure a quarter-final berth and they duly obliged. Northeast made 40 and Billings 46. Northeast in particular looked in good touch, taking four consecutive fours off Robinson, while Billings took advantage off some wayward stuff from Nash, repeatedly hitting towards the direction of an ice cream van receiving little trade on a cold evening at Canterbury.
The pair both fell short of fifties, but it proved to be enough as the Spitfires ran out seven run victors over the Sharks.
Man of the Match – Will Beer (Sussex Sharks): Figures of one for 18 may not seem scintillating, but in a game where runs were free-flowing, Beer’s effort was superb to say the least. The spin bowler went for less than five runs per over, while he also claimed the key wicket of Northeast in the 13th over. Alas, it wasn’t enough for the Sharks to claim a win on the Blast’s opening night.