Darren Stevens continues to make himself indispensable to Kent as he sees them home yet again
The finalists for this year’s Royal London One-Day Cup have been decided, with Kent and Lancashire winning their respective semi-finals.
Kent’s victory against Hampshire was a see-saw battle, the telling contribution coming from the bat of 46-year-old Darren Stevens. Many may have thought his professional career was over when he suffered a hamstring tear in Cardiff four weeks ago, but Stevens continues to defy Father Time and who is to say that his desire to play in the Big Bash this winter will not go unanswered? Since his return a week ago he has helped Kent snatch a quarter-final slot with 49 off 41 balls in their successful run chase against Lancashire, make 41 and then concede just 37 runs from his 10 overs against Leicestershire and see his side home with 84 not out from 65 balls in the semi-final against Hampshire. Earlier he had been the most economical of the Kent bowlers, going for 45 runs from his full quota of 10 overs, bowled in one spell.
Kent had won the toss and asked Hampshire to bat first. Nick Gubbins and Ben Brown made a cautious start, but Gubbins looked to be striking the ball well and at 106 without loss, coming to the end of the 20th over, a platform had been set for a big total. Hamidullah Qadri then removed Brown and Tom Prest off successive balls and Kent looked as if they might be able to bring the run rate under control. However, Aneurin Donald then joined Gubbins and together they put the innings back on track. Gubbins was bowled for 75 by his opposing captain, Joe Denly, attempting a reverse sweep and Donald went on to make a run-a-ball 51. Felix Organ chipped in with 54 off 38 balls and Toby Albert made 45 off 30 balls, 99 runs coming from the last 10 overs. The final total of 310/9 was one Hampshire would have thought defendable.
Kent’s reply got off to the worst possible start when Joey Edison edged the fifth ball of the innings, delivered by Ian Holland, to be caught in the slips by Scott Currie. Ben Compton also went cheaply bringing Joe Denly out to join Oli Robinson. Robinson has had an excellent tournament, with a double century in the first game and he was unlucky to fall short of another century in this game, out for 95 from 89 balls. He set the platform for Kent to challenge the total set, putting on 48 with Denly (21) and 108 with Harry Finch (52), before Robinson top edged an attempted pull off Jack Campbell. Finch soon followed, bowled by Campbell and then it became the Stevens show. When Grant Stewart was out to the last ball of the 41st over, the equation was 70 runs from 54 balls, with four wickets in hand. Kent’s position was further handicapped by a hand injury to Alex Blake, suffered when taking a catch in the Hampshire innings and it was unclear if he would be fit to bat. Ultimately his services were not required as Stevens, with 25 years of experience to call upon, was able to see Kent home with an over to spare.
In the other semi-final at Hove, the finish was a less tense affair, as Lancashire took the honours by 65 runs. However, Sussex must have felt that they were favourites when, having chosen to bat first, Lancashire had been reduced to 67/5 after 14.1 overs. The visitors were then indebted to their skipper, Dane Vilas, to dig them out of trouble. He put on 133 with George Lavelle (50) for the sixth wicket and 72 with Danny Lamb (57) for the seventh. Vilas made 121 off 99 balls and the final total of 319/8 was always going to be a competitive one.
The Sussex top order all made starts, but it was only Ali Orr who was able to push on. He was the second wicket to fall, out for 71 in the 22nd over with the score on 126. Tom Haines made 49 but the Lancashire bowlers maintained the pressure with the result that wickets continued to fall. Sussex were finally dismissed for 254 in the 47th over. Liam Hurt was the pick of the bowlers with 3/43, while Danny Lamb took 2/37. This was an excellent effort from the young Sussex team, who will no doubt have learnt much from this competition, but ultimately the experience of the Lancashire outfit won the day.
So Kent will take on Lancashire at Trent Bridge on 17th September and hopefully the teams will have a healthy level of support on the day, especially now that it has been seen fit to give the competition a Saturday final.