Spitfires crash in T20 Blast clash
Spitfires crash in T20 Blast clash

An unbeaten century by captain Michael Klinger inspired Gloucestershire to a five-run Vitality Blast win over Kent in Canterbury that guarantees the West Country county a place in the quarter finals whilst leaving Kent’s progression from the south group hanging in the balance.

The 35-year-old from Victoria plundered nine fours and four sixes in his 102 not out that helped the visitors – who have not lost a T20 game against Kent since July 2016 – post an impressive 180 for three under the lights at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence.

Clearly wishing to chase a target, Kent fielded first after winning the toss and sprang an immediate surprise by opening the bowling with occasional off-spinner, Alex Blake. The ploy worked wonders as Gloucestershire garnered only two off the over.

Fred Klaassen’s first ball of the night was hooked over the ropes at long leg by Klinger, then Miles Hammond opened his boundary account with a pull to square leg as the Kentish left-armer continued to struggle.

With the powerplay complete, Blake returned for a second respectable over then, with 70 on the board, left-arm spinner Imran Qayyum made the first breakthrough by having Hammond caught on the deep cover ropes off a wristy, slash drive.

Klinger moved to his 34th short-form 50 from 35 balls with six fours and a six – it was his third in the competition against Spitfires – before Blake had James Bracey held at deep mid-wicket to complete an excellent stint of 4-0-17-1 without conceding a boundary.

Qayyum’s quick reactions accounted for Ian Cockbain, run out when backing up to Klinger’s straight drive as the bowler collected the ball, span around and whipped off the bails with Cockbain still out of his ground. Qayyum finished with one for 24.

Jack Taylor should have departed for eight only for Zak Crawley to down a simple chance at ‘cow corner’ off Daniel Bell-Drummond, whose next delivery was heaved for six by Klinger as 23 came off the over.

Taylor was handed another life on 17 when Blake downed a low chance running in from long-on, before Klinger drove the final delivery of the innings over long-off for a ninth four and a 65-ball century with four sixes. Claydon, one of Kent’s four front line bowlers, finished with nought for 45.

In pursuit of 181 at an asking rate of 9.05 an over, Kent lost openers Crawley and Bell-Drummond within 19 balls. Bell-Drummond drove on the up to cover against Andrew Tye then Chris Liddle had Zak Crawley caught off a skier at mid-wicket to make it 21 for two.

Faf du Plessis, the South Africa captain making his Kent debut, was dropped on 18 after Taylor’s howler on the square leg ropes with Tye the unlucky bowler as Spitfires mustered 51 at the end of the powerplay.    

With left-arm spin at both ends, du Plessis and third-wicket partner Sam Billings found it difficult to hit boundaries until Billings broke the shackles by heaving six over the lime tree against Graeme van Buuren.

Five balls later Billings lofted Tom Smith over extra for another maximum and, at the half-way stage Kent had matched Gloucestershire’s 81 after 10 overs, albeit for the loss of one more wicket.

Du Plessis was dropped again on 42 when Tye downed a low chance running in at long on as Kent posted their 100 in the 12th over with the asking rate at 9.75 an over.

Du Plessis reached a fortunate 35-ball 50 with his seventh four and Billings also enjoyed a let-off on 32 when Hammond parried an overhead chance for six off the luckless van Buuren.

Billings scored his first 50 of the competition from 37 balls, but five runs later he holed out in the deep off Ryan Higgins to bring the 122-run stand to an end.

Kent required 41 off the last five overs but Higgins and Tye sent down two tight overs to alter the equation to 32 from 18 balls when Heino Kuhn ran himself out chancing a second to Taylor at deep mid-wicket.

Blake marched in to smite 19 off eight balls before holing out to long off against Ryan Higgins and, when Du Plessis followed next ball in near identical fashion for 60, Kent’s victory hopes went with him. Higgins finished with respectable figures of three for 36 as Kent messed up their second home pursuit inside six days.         

Klinger said: “They needed 40-odd off the last five overs and looked ahead of the game, but I thought our bowlers did superbly. They kept things really simple and executed well and we backed them up by finally taking some catches at the end there.

“I think Ryan Higgins bowled the last four from one end and really executed his skills fantastically well and David Payne likewise. I thought AJ’s (Tye) last two overs were superb as well. The boys were superb with the effort they put in.

“If you’d asked me a week ago, I didn’t think I had that (a T20 century) in me. I didn’t start the tournament great and slowly picked up in the last couple of games. I thought it was a bit past me, so it was nice to get a ton and get us to a decent total.

“I was looking at the black scoreboard before that last ball and that had me on 91 with one ball to go, so I had no idea until everyone started to cheer and it came up on the big TV replay screen. It’s probably a good thing that I wasn’t thinking about the hundred and it just sort of happened.”   

Billings said: “Unfortunately we’ve had two tight games in a row here but just haven’t managed to get across the line. It’s funny in T20 that when you’re on a downward slope the key moments don’t go your way, but as Michael said, their bowlers executed brilliantly.

“Again, losing two wickets, the two in-batters, in two balls doesn’t help, it’s kind of moments like that that make the difference. But well played to Michael here as well, that’s what Faff or myself should have done, to go on. Scores of 75 plus, that’s what win you games of T20.

“I thought we were going really well then I obviously got out with five overs to go. That was a big turning point of course, we had to keep on being positive and if one guy gets out the other has to be there at the end to see it though, but that just wasn’t to be tonight.”                

THE TURNING POINT: After allowing Gloucestershire get off to a flying start, Spitfires had started to peg back the run-rate when Jack Taylor and Michael Klinger plundered 23 off the 16th and only over of the night bowled by occasional seamer Daniel Bell-Drummond.

SHOT OF THE MATCH: Michael Klinger’s audacious last-ball sliced drive over mid-off against Mitch Claydon ton to raise the Australian’s eighth career hundred in T20.   

THE UNSUNG HERO: Alex Blake, 30, started his Kent career 11 years ago as a medium-pace bowler who batted a bit. He has transformed his batting to become Kent’s dynamic T20 “finisher”, while recently adding looping off-spin that Gloucestershire’s batters struggled to get away. He took 1-14 in his first T20 bowling spell in his 116th appearance in the format.

WHAT’S NEXT: Kent Spitfires complete their south group qualifiers with the short trip to play Essex in Chelmsford on Friday (6.30pm start) while Gloucestershire head south to Hove to take on the Sussex Sharks.