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Eagles ruin Kent's promotion hopes

Rob Key's unbeaten 120 was all in a losing cause
Rob Key's unbeaten 120 was all in a losing cause

Kent Spitfires v Essex Eagles

Kent suffered their fourth-defeat in seven one-day starts against Essex this summer to break the hearts of a 3,500 St Lawrence crowd as Spitfires lost their third limited overs title opportunity of the season to also miss out on promotion to Division 1.

The Eagles won Saturday night’s NatWest Pro40 League clash with four wickets to spare and with six balls in hand to secure the Division 2 title, leaving Kent to mull over a fourth-placed finish.

As with the Friends Provident Trophy final at Lord’s last month, it was diminutive Zimbabwean batsman Grant Flower who proved the thorn in Kent’s side, scoring an unbeaten 68 from 42 balls.

Needing to score at more than a run-a-ball from the off, Essex made the worst possible start when captain Mark Pettini had his off stump pegged back by Yasir Arafat’s first ball of the reply.

Pushing forward in defence Pettini was undone by very late away swing as the ball beat the outside edge and clipped the top of off stump.

To make matters worse for Eagles their one-day pinch-hitter Graham Napier had been take to Kent and Canterbury Hospital for tests on an injured right ankle, the legacy of being struck by a stinging Rob Key drive.

But Essex recovered from the double blow through Ravi Bopara and Jason Gallian who proceeded to post a second-wicket stand worth 113 in 24 overs.

Gallian posted a 69-ball 50 but two balls later he edged an attempted run down off Darren Stevens to the keeper then, three overs later, Bopara slogged at Stevens only to pick out Azhar Mahmood at short mid-wicket to go for 59 from 83 balls.

James Foster (19) became the third run out victim of the day when he fell to a Joe Denly throw from third man when attempting a third run for Grant Flower.

Ryan ten Doeschate (1) pulled a Ryan McLaren slower ball, bowled out the back of the hand, to deep mid-wicket where Denly took a stunning overhead catch and just kept his balance to stop going over the ropes.

Essex needed another 30 to win with four overs remaining but crucially Flower was seeing the ball well having already raced to a 32-ball half-century, the quickest of the game.

It was then that left-hander John Maunders (11) swung lustily at Yasir Arafat to lose his off stump and, with Flower off strike, the equation increased to 26 from 18 balls.

But Flower steered a boundary to third man off a Mahmood full toss and then Middlebrook clipped six over mid-wicket leaving Eagles to score 10 from the last two overs, a feat they achieved with an over to spare.

Kent innings

Spitfires skipper Key hit an unbeaten 120 - his top one-day score for the county - to help his side post an impressive 246-5 and set Essex a testing asking rate of 6.175 an over for victory.

The former England right-hander went past his previous league best, 114 against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in June 2002, in the last over of the Spitfires innings.

Batting first on a slow pitch having lost the toss, Kent lost their first wicket when Joe Denly went for 11 from 19 balls, but the dismissal owed more to Denly's stroke than to the quality of the ball from David Masters.

Cutting hard at a poor long-hop, Denly got a bottom edge to be superbly caught by wicketkeeper James Foster stood up to the stumps.

To be fair to Masters, he bowled much better thereafter conceding only two boundaries in his eight over spell of 1-21.

Skipper Key and No3 Martin van Jaarsveld (60 from 55 balls) teamed up to add 113 in 19 overs for the second wicket, van Jaarsveld clubbing three sixes on his way to a 51 ball half-century.

Soon after he chanced a risky second run to John Maunders at third man and was controversially given run out by third official Neil Bainton, but only after umpteen replays.

Key, having reached his 50 from 71 balls and with five fours, was joined by the recently released Matt Walker who came in for potentially his last innings at Canterbury as a Kent player.

Sadly for Walker his contribution proved to be a 19-run cameo rather than a match-changing innings after he lost his off stump when working to leg against Ryan ten Doeschate.

Key marched on to his fifth one-day century with successive fours flicked over short fine leg off ten Doeschate, reaching the milestone from 104 balls and with 14 boundaries.

Soon after though, Key lost fourth wicket partner Darren Stevens (18) to another run out, this time risking a single to Bopara at wide mid-on to end a stand worth 54 in five overs after a second referral to the video umpire.

In the next over Azhar Mahmood (1) holed out to deep square-leg off ten Doeschate, leaving Key on strike to blast a four to fine leg and his first six of the day over mid-wicket as ten Doeschate's five overs cost 54 runs.

*** Click here to view a live match scorecard on the cricinfo website ***

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