Kent are perched on top of the South Group in the T20 Blast table, demonstrating for all to see that you don’t need a roving T20 superstar to be successful in the format.
Skipper Sam Northeast has led the way admirably so far, with 344 runs at an average of 68.8 and a strike rate of 158 from their six games. It is Alex Blake (along with Northeast) who will strike fear into the hearts of their opponents on Friday: it was his unbeaten 71* that took his side from a seemingly hopeless position to a breathtaking victory in the first meeting between these two sides in this year’s Blast.
Kent’s position is all the more impressive for the underperformance of players such as the much-vaunted Sam Billings, who made his England debut in Tuesday’s ODI win over New Zealand. Twenty20 specialist Darren Stevens only averages 6.5 with the bat, and has an economy rate of almost ten with the ball. Like any great T20 side, Kent are somehow finding a way through.
With Hampshire’s phenomenal record in domestic Twenty20s (they last failed to reach Finals Day in 2008), their progress to the knockout stages seems inevitable. Currently third in the table, their success this year has been built on solid contributions from many of their side: four of their batsmen have averages above 35, and four bowlers have economy rates under eight. They will have their sights not only on revenge for the stunning heist that Blake and Northeast pulled off at the Ageas Bowl, but also on moving a step closer towards the familiar territory of the quarter-finals.
Former Kent opener Michael Carberry has had a modest start to this year’s T20 Blast. His 57 in the victory over Middlesex was vital for his side, and he got Hampshire off to a rapid start against Kent at their last meeting. He has experience of overseas T20 with the Perth Scorchers in the Australian Big Bash League, and he was one of the stars of last year’s inaugural Blast. While he appears to have been dumped by England, he can still be a devastating force in domestic cricket.
On the evidence of the season so far, it seems impossible to look beyond Sam Northeast as the key man for Kent. His century against Somerset made Chris Gayle’s 151* the highest T20 innings in a losing cause, and he anchored Kent’s victorious chase against Hampshire first time around. He sits atop the MVP rankings for the tournament, and he appears to have taken well to the captaincy. Without a big name overseas signing, all the more responsibility falls on Northeast’s shoulders – so far, so good.
Kent are without Sam Billings, who is part of the England ODI squad for the first time, but otherwise they have a full-strength squad to choose from. There is still no place for club captain Rob Key, who took the decision to drop himself from first-team cricket. Former Hampshire seamer Matt Coles will face his old teammates for the second time this season.
This fixture will be Fidel Edwards’ last game for Hampshire before he takes a short break to participate in the Caribbean Premier League, but otherwise Hampshire have named a full-strength 14-man squad. Gareth Berg has been added to the list of players available for selection after scoring 99 and taking five wickets against Sussex in the LV County Championship, and Australian seamer Jackson Bird is ready to make his second T20 appearance for the club.
Kent squad: Sam Northeast (c), Adam Ball, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Alex Blake, Mitchell Claydon, Matt Coles, Fabian Cowdrey, Ryan Davies (wk), Joe Denly, Matt Hunn, Adam Riley, Darren Stevens, James Tredwell.
Hampshire squad: James Vince (c), Jimmy Adams, Yasir Arafat, Gareth Berg, Jackson Bird, Danny Briggs, Michael Carberry, Liam Dawson, Fidel Edwards, Sean Ervine, Owais Shah, Will Smith, Adam Wheater (wk), Chris Wood.
Weather and conditions
Heavy rain is forecast for about 6pm, and threats of rain and showers will remain for the rest of the evening. Temperatures are predicted to be warm, however.
Date: 12th June 2015
Ground: The Spitfire Ground, Canterbury
Umpires: Neil Bainton & Graham Lloyd
Odds (SkyBet): Kent 6/5, Hampshire 4/6