Spitfires downed at Chelmsford
Spitfires downed at Chelmsford

Ravi Bopara and Dan Lawrence smashed centuries to set Essex Eagles up for a home quarter-final tie in the Royal London Cup with a comfortable victory over Kent Spitfires at Chelmsford.

Bopara’s 125 took 88 balls and included 11 fours and six sixes, while Lawrence, surpassing his previous highest List A score by 79 runs, finished on 115 from 109 balls with seven fours and three sixes.

The pair put on 187 in 25 overs for the fourth wicket. It was a partnership that took time to ignite, principally because Darren Stevens bowled his allocated 10 overs straight through, taking one for 37, during which time Essex crawled from 45 for two to 132 for three. The fireworks came a little later with the Eagles adding 167 from the last 15 overs, courtesy of their two centurions.

The unfortunate Calum Haggett bore the brunt of the second-half assault, conceding 90 runs for the consolation of two wickets.

Kent had won five games in a row to qualify for the knockout stages, but defeat at Chelmsford enabled Essex to climb above them on run-rate. They were always off the pace in their chase and suffered the ignominy of former player Matt Coles taking two key wickets, including Kent captain Sam Billings to the first ball he bowled. Jamie Porter claimed four wickets for his second match.

Put in, Wheater and Chopra took their aggregate past 500 for first-wicket partnerships in this season’s competition, eventually compiling 537 in the eight group games at an average of 67.12.

When he had reached 19, the wicketkeeper was given a life when he skied Mitch Claydon to cover where Alex Blake misjudged in the sun. However, it was Chopra who departed first, caught chasing Haggett’s second delivery down legside where Claydon snaffled at short fine leg. Wheater followed in the next over for a 26-ball 25, beaten for pace as Henry pegged back leg stump to claim his 50th Kent wicket in all formats this season.

The introduction of Stevens into the attack slowed Essex’s scoring rate to a crawl. And in one incident-packed over, Stevens’s fifth, Westley struck the first boundary off his bowling, survived a sharp caught-and-bowled chance and was lbw to the final ball.

Lawrence and Bopara grafted to their first fifty partnership from 10 overs, with Lawrence passing his top List A score of 37 at the same time. It marked the point that the shackles came off. Lawrence hit Henry for a straight six to reach his half-century. He then posted the 100 stand from 17 overs with the first of successive straight sixes off Denly. Essex, accelerating, had added 55 in six overs.

A lofted sweep for his sixth four brought up Bopara’s fifth fifty in the Royal London Cup this summer. It had taken 57 balls. Lawrence turned Haggett into the onside for the single that took him to a 99-ball century, his second fifty taking 42 balls.

The 150 partnership came up in 23 overs, followed by a mighty pull for six by Bopara. However, Lawrence went for one big hit too many and found Heino Kuhn at deep extra cover.

Ten Doeschate went in similar fashion, miscuing Haggett before Bopara hit the bowler for successive sixes over long-off and long-on. His century, reached with a push into the legside, came from 80 balls.

The New Zealander Henry, having taken two for 59 from 9.1 overs, was withdrawn from the attack after bowling his second waist-high full-toss. Haggett took over and Bopara smashed successive sixes, one straight and out of the ground, the other beating Qayyum on the rope.

Zaidi went to Sean Dickson’s catch on the boundary before another six, from a full-toss by Claydon, prefaced Bopara’s departure, caught in the deep by Kuhn. As a postscript, Coles’s first ball against his old team-mates also cleared the ropes.

And when Coles dismissed Billings with his first ball, castled for six to reduce the Spitfires to 42 for three after 13 overs, his joy knew no bounds.

Kent had already lost Kuhn, after centuries in his previous two innings, for just four as Jamie Porter clipped the top of off-stump. Daniel Bell-Drummond hung around for 10 unproductive overs before swishing wildly at Sam Cook and was caught behind for 12.

Coles’s second wicket was equally important in the context of the match as he had Denly caught at deep cover by Lawrence. Blake pulled Coles and drove Bopara for sixes, and Sean Dickson launched a towering effort to bring up the fifty for the fifth-wicket in 10 overs.

The stand was worth 83 when Blake played over one from ten Doeschate and was bowled for 41 from 39 balls. It left Kent requiring 202 from 20 overs.

Dickson took 64 balls to make it to his fifty but perished on 51 when he lifted the returning Porter to Bopara at mid-off. Wickets followed regularly thereafter. Stevens misjudged ten Doeschate’s slower ball and was bowled, Haggett hooked a short ball from Porter to midwicket, Qayyum gave Porter a fourth wicket before Lawrence took the final catch at deep midwicket.

Essex centurion Ravi Bopara said: “Every day someone has got to do it – it can’t always be Chopra, it can’t always be Westley. We all take our turn. Today was Dan Lawrence’s day, and myself.”

Lawrence made his highest List A score and Bopara said: “It’s got to happen one day, hasn’t it? You’ve got to do it and he did it today. It might have been even better had he done it in the next game. I think now he has got over that hurdle of getting fifty, then a hundred, it’s a nice feeling and you can free up a bit. It was good for him.

“He backs himself. He’s young and a bit wet behind the ears, but that’s not a bad thing in cricket. When they’re a bit naïve and don’t really know what’s going on. But he’s very mature for his age in cricket terms. He’s a wonderful batsman, he’s got the class, the talent and he’s got a big future ahead of him.

“Darren Stevens was moving it around, off a length, a bit of both ways, and it was a little dangerous just to hit through the line. He got to seven overs and we had a chat and said, ‘Look, he’s got three overs to go, if we can at least score five or six an over off him, we can get the runs at the other end. And we targeted their death bowling a little bit and they are going to be the best [for us] at the end. Let’s load it up towards the death and if it comes off it comes off. But the only way to win this game is if we both get a hundred.’ That was the chat. ‘Both of us are going to get a hundred today.’”

On Matt Coles’s performance against his old team, Bopara added: “We’ve been missing him from the start. We’ve been saying the sooner he can get into our team, or get fit, we’ll be a much better bowling side. And we’ll be able to defend more scores with him in the side. He’s been a brilliant addition to the team.”

Kent head coach Matt Walker said: “We were well off it today. Not sure why. We’ve had a pretty tough schedule, which might have had something to do with it. But we didn’t reach our usual standards in any department, unfortunately. Not at our usual standard with the ball, our fielding was sloppy and then we were behind the eight-ball in terms of the run chase and never got anywhere near it.

“We’ve played too well in this competition to dwell on that. We need to learn from it and understand why we didn’t play as well as we have done. We’ll move on, knowing we have done the job and we’re into the quarter-finals. That’s pleasing. We’re disappointed we couldn’t put a win on the board and get a home tie. But it is what it is. We just need to be better next time it comes around. Hopefully we’ve got it out of our system and it’s given us the kick up the backside as we go into the next phase.

“Nothing is ever safe here. That is why we chose to chase – we know how hard it is defend a score. I think 300 would have been about right. But to honest we let it slip after a good start. We just got our lengths wrong consistently in the middle overs. Ravi and Dan played exceptionally well. We strayed away from what we usually do best. We went searching a bit and they punished it for us. 337 was always going to be a big ask, especially on this ground, especially the start they got – they bowled extremely well up front and got more out of the wicket than we did throughout their innings. We went a bit underground at times.

“I think 280-300 would have been about par and we would have backed ourselves to get near that. It is frustrating because we have done so well, and to finish on that note is frustrating. We’ve played some brilliant cricket in this competition so we’re not going to dwell too long on it.”