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Spitfires fly to opening victory
Spitfires fly to opening victory

A near full house at Canterbury saw the Kent Spitfires rout Gloucestershire by seven wickets in their opening Vitality Blast fixture of 2023.

The 2021 Champions cruised home with 6.3 overs to spare, closing on 116-3 in reply to the visitors meagre 113 all out.

Micahel Hogan took three for 13 while Grant Stewart, Jack Leaning and Kane Richardson all took two apiece as the visitors collapsed from 82 for 3 all out in 16.3 overs.

Chris Dent was the visitors’ top scorer with 55, but none of his team mates made more than 12.

Tom Smith claimed three for 22 but it was a chastening evening for Goucestershire. Joe Denly anchored Kent’s reply an unbeaten 35 before Jordan Cox stole the show by clubbing 39 from 17 balls, including a huge six for the winning runs.

With over 3700 packed into the Spitfire Ground and standing room only on the bankings, Gloucestershire’s chose to bat and repented at leisure.

Hogan struck early, getting Grant Roelofsen caught on the boundary by Joey Evison in the second over, although the momentum was back with the visitors when Kane Richardson’s first over as a Spitfire went for 19.

Leaning then bowled Miles Hammond for nine but Dent hit successive sixes in George Linde’s first over, only for the visitors to lose their last seven wickets for just 31 runs.

Leaning had Ollie Price caught at long off by Richardson for 12 and although Dent reached 50 when he glanced Leaning for four, Hogan started the collapse when he took two wickets in the tenth over. Dent fell to an acrobatic catch by Sam Billings, who was back behind he stumps after handing Cox the gloves for the last two championship games, before Jack Taylor offered the wicket-keeper a dolly.

Denly ran out Zafar Gohar for eight before James Bracey swiped Grant Stewart to the square leg boundary, where he was caught by Leaning for seven.

Two balls later Stewart bowled Paul van Meekeren for a duck and although Smith just survived the next delivery, he was out for four when he chipped Richardson to Jordan Cox.

Richardson then wrapped up the innings with 21 balls to spare when he had David Payne caught behind for a golden duck.

There was an early hiccup in the chase when Tawanda Muyeye tried to drive Price and was caught by Hammond at mid-off for six but Kent were almost halfway to the target by the end of the powerplay, at 55 for one.

When Daniel Bell-Drummond was lbw to Smith for 27 it broke a 52-run partnership and Billings was then out for six when he tried to reverse-sweep Smith and fell to a juggling catch by Zafar, but that was as close as Kent came to a wobble.

With the run rate under four they didn’t need to take any risks but Cox seemed to be in a hurry, taking 17 from van Meekern in the 12th over, including a gubernatorial flicked six over backward square leg.

He scrambled a single of the next ball to keep the strike and then smacked Zafar for a huge six over into the Cowdrey Stand to win the game.

Kent’s Joe Denly said: “Obviously it does wonders for our run rate, which could be crucial later on. We speak about playing a positive brand of cricket and we were pretty batter-heavy today, so to bowl them out for a low score enabled us to really put pressure on them as a bowling unit and it was great to get it done early.

“I love bowling in T20 cricket, it’s always good fun. You know the batters are going to come after you. It’s all part of the game and hopefully I can chip in with a few wickets like Jack did today.

“It’s been nice to have a couple of T20s in the twos and get your eye in with the white ball stuff and just, I suppose keep that rhythm going at the crease.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a few ups and downs throughout the competition but we can only take each game at a time I guess and to start tonight in the way we did will give us great confidence going into the rest of the competition.

“Last year was disappointing but I think we put that to bed and this year’s completely different. There’s a few new faces in the squad and we never take this competition lightly, so it was great to get off to a win tonight. Bring on Friday!”

Kent’s Michael Hogan said: “The buzz and the energy from the boys was top class and it’s always an exciting time playing your first T20 of the year.

“I think we haven’t probably started the season as well as we would have liked but with the change of format and a new lease of life, the boys are buzzing, so it was fantastic to get a first win on the board.

“If you’re chasing under six an over to win a T20 game you’d back yourself to win most of them. We took wickets all the way through, everyone chipped in and made some poles there at some crucial times as well. Jack did a great job bowing three overs in the power play as a spinner, so everyone chipped in and it was great to come away with a win.

“It was a bit of a read really from Bilbo (Sam Billings) as to how they play. You obviously study the match-ups before the game and one of our match-ups was Jack to bowl to the left-handers and it worked today. It was good planning and tactical nous from the captain.

“I love this format and I pride myself in how I play in the powerplay so it was nice to get a couple of wickets. It’s been a bit of a slow start for myself in a new environment but the boys couldn’t have been more welcoming and inclusive.”

Gloucestershire’s Jack Taylor said: “It was disappointing, we obviously wanted to start well and we didn’t do that. I thought Dent played excellent but they bowled really well and got a bit of variable bounce and we just weren’t able to cope.

“You aren’t going to win many games with 113. I don’t know if the pitch played any differently (in the Kent innings), I just think that when you’ve got that on the board and the bowlers have got nothing to bowl it you need three or four wickets in the first four or five overs to have any chance, but it’s only the first game and it’s a long tournament.

“We obviously had a few guys missing but we trusted the XI that we went out there with and backed them for the job. As I said, we weren’t able to do it today but I think Hampshire are a great example, they lost the first four last year and then went on to win the tournament.

“It is one game and it’s obviously disappointing but I think we can turn it around on Friday. Smith was excellent and tasked with bowling two tough overs in the powerplay as well, I’m not sure what his figures were but I’d imaging they were pretty good and he’s a huge asset and Zafar also bowled nicely.

“Losing three wickets quickly and having the middle order in early is not ideal. It was disappointing not to bat the overs and put up a better score, but one bad performance doesn’t make us a bad team.