Sharks bite but Spitfires end on top
Sharks bite but Spitfires end on top

Kent Spitfires ended their Vitality Blast group stage campaign with a four-wicket defeat to Sussex on Sunday, but finished top of the South Group and will play a home Quarter Final later on this summer.

Still with a depleted team due to the first choice T20 squad isolating after a positive COVID case in the camp, Kent put on 130/7 with the bat on a tricky surface. Sussex, however, chased down the total with nearly three overs to spare to see themselves through to the quarters of this year’s T20 competition.

With first place in the South Group already nailed down, Kent captain Zak Crawley won the toss and opted to bat first on a scorching evening in Canterbury, and named an unchanged team from the XI that dispatched Middlesex at Lord’s on Friday. Sussex swapped out Archie Lenham and Mitchell Claydon, bringing in Oli Carter and England star Jofra Archer.

Ollie Robinson opened the bowling for Sussex, and George Munsey took a look at the England man for two balls before heaving the first runs of the game via the long-on boundary.

Zak Crawley was almost out first ball, pulling Robinson high, but Harrison Ward slipped at deep square leg and the ball flew just over him for four.

12 runs came from Archer’s first over – including four leg byes – as Kent continued their good start, but George Munsey was out for 11 second ball of the third over, trying to pull David Wiese for six.

Crawley tried to get things back on track and hit Robinson for three fours in a row to end the fourth over, but he was soon on his way too, lifting a Wiese slower ball to Robinson at mid-on for 19.

With Kent 48/3 at the end of the powerplay, Will Beer was introduced by Sussex skipper Luke Wright and had Heino Kuhn caught and bowled first ball for four. The Sussex man completed a wicket maiden with his team on top and able to introduce Rashid Khan to the attack.

The Afghanistan captain didn’t take a wicket immediately but continued to keep things tight with Will Beer, with Kent restricted to 64/3 at the halfway stage of their innings.

Calum MacLeod slapped Beer for six as he and Harry Finch tried to accelerate, and they took 14 from Will Beer’s final over – the spinner finishing with figures of 1/26.

Finch however holed out off Bopara for 30, and Calum MacLeod followed, LBW to Rashid for 31. Important knocks from the two batsmen, but Sussex had two fresh players at the crease in the form of Marcus O’Riordan and Dan Lincoln approaching the death overs.

O’Riordan was dropped by Robinson, but Lincoln was out next ball via a thick outside edge trying to go big against Bopara. Harry Podmore then went without scoring, as Bopara finished with figures of 3/15 from his four overs.

11 from the final over saw Kent drag their way to 130/7, a below par score but one the bowl at on a tricky pitch.

Elliot Hooper opened the bowling for Kent and struck with his third ball, bowling Phil Salt for a duck. Marcus O’Riordan then conceded just three from his over as Kent’s spinners put the squeeze on early.

Luke Wright hit Matt Quinn for back-to-back fours at the start of the third however, and nailed a big six off Harry Podmore to help the visitors to 41/1 at the end of the powerplay.

The duo passed the 50 partnership but Wright was out for 39, caught in the deep off a huge leading edge off O’Riordan.

Bopara followed, reverse sweeping the off spinner straight to short third man for 19 as Kent began to work their way back into the game.

Rawlins and David Wiese however calmed things back down in the middle, keeping up with the rate and taking as few risks as possible.

Matt Quinn almost picked up Wiese, but Crawley slipped at mid-on and couldn’t get to the aerial ball on time. The duo took 15 from Quinn’s over to add to the damage, edging ever closer to their target.

Wiese hit Podmore for six as he tried to finish things in a canter. He did however hole out to the seamer off the last ball of the 15th over, but the damage was done by that point.

Harrison Ward too holed out going for the big finish, and Rawlins almost mirrored the dismissal off the very next ball. Eventually, Rashid Khan hit the winning runs to see the visitors over the line by four wickets to help them qualify for the Quarter Finals.

Kent will face Birmingham Bears later this summer in the first knockout round.