Published: 17:30, 18 September 2020
| Updated: 18:28, 18 September 2020
Grant Stewart hit a six in the final over to blast Kent Spitfires into the T20 Blast knockout stages.
Spitfires beat Essex Eagles by four wickets with two balls to spare to secure their place in the quarter-finals at the start of next month.
It’s their fifth win in this year’s competition and they will now hope to grab top spot when they face Surrey in their final South Group match on Sunday.
Stewart got Kent over the line but they owe former Yorkshire batsman Jack Leaning a huge debt of gratitude after his unbeaten half-century helped rescue Spitfires’ reply.
Chasing Essex’s 167-9, Kent were faltering at 80-5 in the 11th over when skipper Sam Billings – back from England duty – was dismissed for 18.
The hosts had lost four wickets for 23 runs in less than five overs, with Joe Denly (23), Heino Kuhn (3) and Daniel Bell-Drummond (25) all falling.
That left Alex Blake and Leaning to repair the innings, Blake hitting two sixes and a four in his 19-ball 29 before he was out with 21 still needed in the last two overs.
Leaning went on to score 55 not out from just 32 balls with six four and a vital six off the final ball of the penultimate over.
“We bat all the way down, so my job was to take it as deep as possible and try and finish it in the last couple of overs," said the match-winner.
"The lads are delighted, but I don’t think our mood has ever changed. We’ve played good cricket this year with everyone contributing at various times, so there’s been no change in spirits because of how well we’ve been playing.
"It feels as a group that we know we can win games in different ways and it didn’t feel like there was loads of pressure to have to win this game. The lads are in a good head space, which puts us in good stead now going through to the quarter finals."
Stewart had earlier impressed with the ball, taking 1-24 in his four overs to help claw the Essex innings back after they reached 60-1 in their powerplay.
Billings’ brilliant run out of Cameron Delport meant Essex had slipped to 78-4 in the 10th over.
Ryan ten Doeschate hit three fours and two sixes in his 33-ball 52 before Stewart had him caught behind in the penultimate over.
Fred Klassen picked up two wickets in two balls in the final over to return 3-36 and keep the visitors before 170.