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Spitfires thrashed in Battle of the Bridge
Spitfires thrashed in Battle of the Bridge

Michael Pepper showcased his outrageous hitting for a second successive Tuesday night as Essex Eagles thrashed Kent Spitfires by seven wickets in the Vitality Blast.

Batter Pepper shook out a personal best 75 not out against Hampshire Hawks last week and followed that up by punching 50 as the Eagles knocked off 131 with 27 balls unneeded.

A sensational team bowling powerplay had earlier set the platform to stunt Kent, as Daniel Sams, Sam Cook, Ben Allison and Matt Critchley all eventually snared two wickets each.

Essex are in the quarter-final hunt with three wins from six games and boasts an unbeaten start at the Cloud County Ground, Chelmsford. Kent are rock bottom with a solitary victory.

Eagles decided to bowl first and vindicated their decision with a barbaric display of powerplay bowling to leave Spitfires 24 for four, a minor recovery from 17 for four. Daniel Sams, Sam Cook and Ben Allison all bowled two overs, with stunning figures of one for seven, one for three and two for nine respectively.

Australian Sams produced a snorter to have Daniel Bell-Drummond caught at first slip in the first over, before T20 debutant Tawanda Muyeye holed Allison out to deep midwicket and Jordan Cox tickled to a juggling short fine leg two balls later. Cook completed the ruthless start when Grant Stewart miss-hit to point.

Alex Blake attempted to readdress the momentum by striking back-to-back sixes, as Aron Nijjar went for 21 in his sole over. But despite partnerships of 29 with Sam Billings – who was brilliantly caught and bowled by Simon Harmer – and 27 with Jack Leaning, setting a total was laborious.

Leg spinner Matt Critchley bowled Leaning and had George Linde slicing to Sams at point. It was one of four catches for Sams which equalled Essex’s T20 record – set by Dan Lawrence in this fixture last year.

Freddie Klaassen outdid all three Essex powerplay bowlers to bowl a maiden and then a wicket maiden – having bowled Adam Rossington. But Pepper picked up from his heroics here last week.

A four over extra cover got his eye in before he carted Matt Milnes back over his head with a well-middled six.

Buttleman ended his run of three single-figure scores by opening up the off side with a trio of boundaries. But departed when Blake unleashed his inner Harlem Globetrotter to reach the ball, pop the ball up, roll over and complete a jaw-dropping diving catch.

Pepper added three more maximums off the spinners before he moved to a third format fifty from 28 balls. He fell when he top-edged a sweep to short fine leg, but Critchley and Paul Walter – who struck three massive sixes –  ticked off the remaining 46 runs with little problem.

Essex Eagles fast bowler Sam Cook – who took two for 14 said: “That is probably one of the best powerplays we’ve had since I’ve been playing. We really restricted the run rate and to take four wickets made it the perfect powerplay.”

“We then didn’t let our feet off the gas and took wickets throughout.

“[Pepper] was absolutely phenomenal. The way he played on that wicket, no one else could do that. He took the game by the throat. He is a phenomenal player of spin and extremely good T20 batter – I’d be extremely surprised not to see him picked up in the Vitality Wildcard draft for the Hundred the way he is going.”

“He is an intelligent batter and has all the shots; the ceiling is very high for him.”

“He had a great year last year and people might expect he has to come in and play big innings every time but it isn’t an easy game. He is scoring his runs at the moment on pitch which aren’t belters which makes it all the more impressive.”

“He is taking the confidence from one innings and I think is only going to get better and better.”

“We have had two statement wins and really improved across the board in T20. I think the way our team is set up now is really strong and we are happy to compete with any team.”

“To do the double over Kent as we have is very pleasing and we can take an awful about of confidence going in the next couple of games.”

Kent Spitfires head coach Matt Walker: “The game was lost in the first six overs being 24 for four, you aren’t winning too many games from that position. We tried to pull some punches but it is a long way back from that position.”

“As much as we scrapped we didn’t quite use our brain enough, where we should have got closer to 150. 130 was never going to be enough.”

“After those initial wickets it was always going to be a cruise for them. We keep making the same mistakes unfortunately, when the basic skills aren’t good enough it is going to be hard to win games of cricket and that’s where it has been all campaign really. We’ve made the same errors over and over again.”

“There are still seven games to go and we need to win them all, starting with Somerset on Friday night. Eventually we will get to the stage if we don’t win the next few games it will be playing for pride.”

“But we need to keep believing as anything can happen in this competition. We still feel we are in this competition, it is going to take an almighty effort to do something to get us there but it has to turn around at some stage.”