Published: 19:00, 06 June 2014
| Updated: 19:12, 06 June 2014
Kent Spitfires produced a scintillating display to beat the Middlesex Panthers in a thrilling NatWest T20 Blast South Group on Friday night.
Sam Northeast and Alex Blake hit fine half-centuries while there were more runs for skipper Rob Key and a thrilling cameo from Sam Billings to steer Kent past 200 and to their second highest ever T20 total of 208-4.
Australian all-rounder Dan Christian, however, launched a one-man mission to get his side to the line, smashing an astonishing 129 from 57 balls and single-handedly taking the visitors to the brink of an unthinkable victory.
He was eventually bowled with the first ball of the final over – with 18 runs required for victory – by David Griffiths, who claimed two more wickets in the over to ensure a 16-run victory and finish with a career best 4-22.
After winning the toss, the Spitfires made a quick start, with Key picking up where he left off in Southampton the previous night.
Just 21 hours after finishing unbeaten on 89 in the defeat at Hampshire, Key cracked three straight fours before Daniel Bell-Drummond drilled one to Ollie Rayner at mid-off off the bowling of Christian.
Northeast got off the mark with a six off James Harris but it wasn’t long before Key went for 36 from 21 balls, stumped by John Simpson off Ravi Patel, although the Kent skipper looked nonplussed by the decision.
Darren Stevens was next in and he hit a six on to the roof of the pavilion but was run-out moments later for 17, Northeast calling for a second that wasn’t there and former team-mate Joe Denly sending the all-rounder back to the dugout with a direct hit from the deep.
Kent were 91-3 in the 11th over but Northeast raced to his half-century with 14 from the first three balls of a Christian over, only to depart bowled by the final ball of the over to leave it 137-4.
Northeast had put on 46 in 4.2 overs with Blake but if that partnership had proved fruitful, it was nothing compared to the unbroken stand Blake enjoyed with Sam Billings.
The pair put on 71 runs from the final five overs with Blake hitting yet another career-best of 58 not out from 31 balls, including seven fours and two sixes.
Billings hit two fours and two sixes to finish with 31 from just 12 balls, including 17 off the final over to leave Kent on 208-4.
The only bigger total posted at Canterbury was Surrey’s 217-4 in 2006 while Kent’s only higher score was the 217 scored at Gloucestershire in 2010.
The reply got off to a perfect start as Paul Stirling clipped Bollinger to Blake near the square leg boundary in the first over to leave the Panthers 4-1.
Eoin Morgan joined Dawid Malan in the middle but the dangerous opener was soon back in the pavilion, drilling the first ball of Griffiths’ second over straight to Key, departing for 12 to leave the visitors 22-2 in the fourth over.
Stevens then dismissed Morgan (10) with his second delivery, tempting the England man to clip to Riley at third man to leave the Panthers reeling on 28-3.
There was no sign at that stage of the fireworks to come, though. After arriving in the fifth over, Christian did spark a recovery with a flurry of boundaries, hitting two sixes and 20 off one Stevens over before Bollinger returned to bowl Joe Denly for nine and the visitors were 63-4 in the ninth.
Christian continued the onslaught, passing 50 from 25 balls, bringing it up with a six off Griffiths, though Neil Dexter holed-out to Northeast at long-off to give Adam Riley his first wicket.
The combination worked again to account for Simpson (3) and leave the Panthers on 110-6 with little over six overs remaining, with Riley finishing with superb 2-23 from his four overs amid the carnage.
Christian reached 100 in 46 balls and he alone kept the required run-rate to a level which hushed the crowd who has been so boisterous earlier in the evening.
Toby Roland-Jones hit a four and a six for his 10 but skied one off Bollinger to Billings to leave the score on 190-7 with seven balls remaining and give the Australian figures of 3-40.
The stand of 80 for the seventh wicket came from just 31 balls.
With 18 needed off the final over and Christian on strike, the game hung in the balance, however a perfect yorker from Griffiths demolished his stumps and drew rapturous cheers, while Christian was warmly applauded for his 129 from just 57 balls.
The game was all but up at that stage but there was still time for Griffiths to bowl Ollie Rayner and Patel in consecutive deliveries to make it three wickets in four deliveries and bowl the visitors out with two balls to spare.
The victory kept Kent second in South Group, with games in hand, and closed the gap on leaders Hampshire.
Their fifh game in the competition is against Essex at Canterbury on Wednesday.
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