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Kent Spitfires (116-3) beat Gloucestershire (113 all out) by seven wickets in opening T20 Blast South Group game at Canterbury

There was a winning start to Kent Spitfires’ T20 Blast season as they eased past Gloucestershire in their first 2023 South Group game on Wednesday night.

An unbroken 45-run fourth-wicket partnership between the returning Joe Denly and an aggressive Jordan Cox saw them to a seven-wicket success after they had skittled the visitors for 113.

Joe Denly and Sam Billings celebrate another wicket in their campaign-opening T20 Blast win over Gloucestershire. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Joe Denly and Sam Billings celebrate another wicket in their campaign-opening T20 Blast win over Gloucestershire. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Denly said: “It feels really good. To do it the way we did it was, obviously, really positive for us.

“Gloucestershire have been a little bit of a bogey team for us over the last few years.

“To get a win first up against them gives us great confidence.”

The away team won the toss and elected to bat first, with recently-signed bowler Arafat Bhuiyan and Alex Blake missing out for The Spitfires.

Kent skipper Sam Billings also re-took the gloves, having passed that responsibility to Cox for their past two County Championship Division 1 clashes.

South African George Linde bowling. Picture: Barry Goodwin
South African George Linde bowling. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Spinner Jack Leaning (2-23) was surprisingly handed Kent’s first over - to good effect in front of a big midweek crowd of 3,700.

Michael Hogan (3-13) put in a similarly strong start and collected their first wicket in the second over, with Grant Roelofsen (1) picking out all-rounder Joey Evison on the legside boundary.

But the third over saw Miles Hammond hit the first six off Leaning before Australian overseas fast bowler Kane Richardson’s first over in a Kent shirt didn’t exactly go to plan. The 32-year-old went for 19, including a no-ball and three boundaries.

Just two balls later, though, Leaning had his and Kent’s second wicket. He cleaned up Hammond for nine, with the away side 41-2 at the end of the powerplay.

Grant Stewart’s first over proved expensive, sent for 13, while the eighth over also saw spinner George Linde (0-29) dispatched for successive maximums by Dent.

Daniel Bell-Drummond and Joe Denly. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Daniel Bell-Drummond and Joe Denly. Picture: Barry Goodwin

But one man certainly impressing with the ball was Leaning and he had Oliver Price (12) caught in the deep by Richardson.

Hogan, 42 next week, claimed two scalps in the 10th over.

He had Dent caught behind for an impressive 29-ball 55 expertly by Billings, with the same combination at work a few balls later to dismiss captain Jack Taylor (1) and leave Gloucestershire 84-5 at the halfway stage.

A fine piece of fielding by Denly in the 12th over saw Pakistani international Zafar Gohar (8) run-out off Richardson’s bowling while Linde’s next three middle-innings overs proved more economical than his first had been.

A ball after the away team had inched to 100, Leaning, at deep backward square leg, judged a catch well to get Stewart into the wickets, dismissing James Bracey (7), before the 29-year-old Italian international cleaned up Paul van Meekeren without score soon after.

Jack Leaning celebrates. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Jack Leaning celebrates. Picture: Barry Goodwin

With Gloucestershire losing any momentum they had, Richardson earned his first two Spitfires wickets in successive balls.

He dismissed Tom Smith for four, Cox taking a simple catch, and had David Payne caught behind for a golden duck to leave Gloucestershire all out for a measly total in the 17th over to end with 2-26 from 2.3 overs.

Tawanda Muyeye and the returning Daniel Bell-Drummond were sent out to begin Kent’s chase, and the former cracked their first four off the final ball of the opening over.

His stay proved brief, however. He picked out a lunging Hammond off Smith (3-22) to go for six.

Neither Denly nor Bell-Drummond were waiting around, though, and they sent Taylor’s only over for 10 while van Meekeren’s opening six balls were even more expensive, ending with consecutive Bell-Drummond fours.

Joe Denly and Kane Richardson celebrate. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Joe Denly and Kane Richardson celebrate. Picture: Barry Goodwin

A glorious cover drive by Denly off Smith moved the home side beyond 50 in the sixth over and they were 55-1 at the end of their powerplay.

The pair had looked comfortable until Bell-Drummond, 29, was trapped in front for a 19-ball 27 off Smith to leave them 61-2.

That brought Billings to the crease and he became Smith’s third victim, reverse-sweeping to Gohar, who took a juggling catch, to get the out-of-form player (6) out for another low score.

With Denly still at the other end, 22-year-old Cox dispatched Payne (0-27) for back-to-back fours which both bounced just shy of the rope.

Cox now appeared to want the game over in a hurry and, in the 13th over, he fired 17 off five balls to threaten to surpass Denly’s score.

Indeed, he did just that with another four off Gohar (0-25) and whacked a six to the legside boundary to finish unbeaten on 38 off 17 balls, three ahead of Denly, to wrap things up in the 14th over.

Hogan said: “The buzz and the energy from the boys was top class.

“It’s always an exciting time, playing your first T20 of the year.

“We haven’t probably started as well as we would have hoped.

“With a change of format and a new lease of life, the boys were buzzing, so it was fantasic to get that first win on the board.”

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