On a night where all felt well with English domestic t20 – cloudless skies, 23,000 packed in at The Oval and a match featuring homegrown stars, folk heroes and England internationals – a masterful individual performance from Joe Denly was enough to help Kent beat Surrey by six runs at the Kia Oval.
Denly hit 102 off 63 balls in propelling the visitors up to 173, and then took a hattrick at a crucial time to derail the home side’s chase at a point when they looked sure to reach their target. Surrey, after making a promising start and having the chase seemingly in the bag, will wonder how they lost this match – but a collapse of nine wickets for 69 after being 98-1 should give them the answer.
In reality, Surrey should have won this with ease, especially after Rory Burns and Ben Foakes came together early in their chase. The two England wannabe’s played some gorgeous drives, cuts and pulls during the powerplay. While both can be reasonably expected to feature in conversations about England Test teams in the near future, tonight demonstrated that they also have plenty of prowess in the T20 arena. Burns unfurled some glorious extra cover drives in his 39, while Foakes looked in command in reaching his 50 off 28 balls.
The game hinged in fact on the 13th over, bowled by Denly. With the score on 135-3, he dismissed Rikki Clarke, Jamie Smith and Matt Pillans (wickets four, five and six) in successive balls with his leg-spin to claim an unexpected, timely and ultimately matchwinning hattrick. Adam Milne also distinguished himself, claiming the last two wickets (Gareth Batty and Jade Dernbach) in consecutive deliveries as Foakes simply ran out of partners.
That Kent had reached a total that was defendable in the first place was also thanks to Denly, who made a bright start after the visitors won the toss and chose to bat. Him and Heino Kuhn quickly pummelled a 50-partnership for the second wicket, with the Englishman in particularly rare touch. Denly meted out significant punishment to Dernbach, Freddie van den Bergh and Morne Morkel, with all three dishing up too many wayward deliveries that the partnership were able to smack to the fence with ease.
Denly accelerated steadily through his innings, at one point taking van den Bergh for 16 off just four balls, immediately after bringing up his 50 off 33 deliveries with a glorious straight six off Batty. Although the ex-Middlesex man may well have missed his chance when it comes to gaining further international honours after a handful of limited-overs appearances several years ago, this innings will do his case no harm at all. His timing, placement and control of the game were all of the highest quality tonight.
Despite failing to receive any significant assistance from any of the middle or lower order, which included big-hitting West Indian Carlos Braithwaite and England hopeful Sam Billings, Denly continued to flay the bowling to all parts in the final overs. Although Surrey did bowl with reasonable accuracy and consistency at the death (helped by some questionable shot selection from various lower-order batsmen), Kent were visibly confident of their total – as it turned out, with good reason.