Friday 27th August 2021 – The Vitality T20 Blast at The St Lawrence Ground, Canterbury
“Can we play you every week?” was ringing out from the South Bank of fans with 10 overs still to go. Winning isn’t something that Kent fans are used to, but here we were on the verge of an appearance in the T20 Finals Day, thrashing the Birmingham Bears. It had a surreal feel to it. I support two football teams, who between them have one a minor (and by minor I mean it is only 6 inches tall) European competition in the last twenty years. We may have the best ground in Britain (according to a book published last year) but it’s not really something we can taunt our opponents with – after all, they were the ones who voted for it! So I’d hoped for something different in my cricketing team.
A dismal performance in the County Championship sees Kent start the final stage of the 2021 competition in the bottom group. An inglorious exit from the 50-over competition had added woe to the pain but in the T20 Blast they were unstoppable, even when Covid caused the whole squad to self-isolate.
But here we were, having finished top of the Southern Group, hosting Birmingham Bears, the only county T20 side who felt it necessary to rebrand for the competition (I note that Wisden still refer to them as Warwickshire in the competition). These bears certainly weren’t grizzly, surrendering their wickets far too cheaply. And whilst there was a late rally that had some Kent fans slightly concerned, there wasn’t enough quality down the order to sustain a late attack.
Kent won this game through a couple of individual batting performances and some excellent fielding. Scratch beneath the surface and you will see that soft underbelly that has caused issues in other forms of the game this season and that will be something semi-final opponents at Edgbaston on the 18th September will focus on.
Our seats were in the upper tier of the very quirky Underwood & Knott stand, squeezed in beside the home team pavilion. It is a very intimate affair – 8 rows of 18 velvet cinema style seats, with heavy framed windows that gave the impression you were watching the game on TV, which is exactly what the Current Mrs Fuller had to do as the thick window frame in her eye line obscured the wicket completely.
All three quarter finals so far had gone to the team batting second, and all had come from the southern section of the group stage. With that in mind, the visitors on winning the toss put Kent into bat and had their first reward relatively quickly, when England one-day opener Zac Crawley departed for just four with the score on 9. Denly and Bell-Drummond eased things along reaching 44 in the sixth over before the former departed.
Sam Billings had returned from the Hundred and England duty, having only played three previous games this season for Kent wasted no time plundering the Bears attack. Him and Bell-Drummond put on fifty in five and a bit overs before a freak run out ended the partnership when the Kent openers powerful drive destroyed the bowler’s end stumps but Lintott grabbed a flailing stump and the ball, bringing them together to claim the wicket.
Whilst Kent built their innings at 6-7 runs an over, the one thorn in their side was former England bowler Tim Bresnan who took 4-26 in his four overs and certainly limited the damage to the scoreboard. Billings departed in the final over having score 56 off 37 balls perhaps frustrated he hadn’t seen enough of the strike, with no other Kent batsman reaching double figures. Both Sussex and Somerset had chased down bigger scores this week.
After the end of the powerplay at the conclusion of the sixth over, Birmingham were 40-2, still needing over 8 an over to win but technically with plenty of batting left. But then it fell to pieces. 44-3, 46-4, 53-5 and 55-6 – four wickets for eleven runs in crucially 4 overs. It looked all over for them, the damage inflicted by Leaning and Qais Ahmad who shared the four wickets between them.
Chris Woakes and Tim Bresnan held the final straws for the Bears. They needed to score at just under 11 an over and they gave it a go. Milne and especially Klaassen bowled too short and the former England all-rounders plundered quick runs but it was Lintott who came in with the score at 84-7 that gave the noisy Bears fans in the crowd the hope. In the fifteenth Klaassen went for 13. In the Eighteenth he went for 17 but it wasn’t enough as at the other end Milnes was removing all of Lintott’s support.
When Lintott was finally removed, thanks to a stunning catch on the boundary for 41 off just 20 balls, including two sixes into the retirement flats, The Bears were done. They needed 25 off the final over and Milnes wrapped it all up, taking his fourth and the final Bears wicket on the last ball of the game to finish with 4-24. Batsmen win games they say but in this instance the fielding performance of the Kent side certainly can claim a major assist.
So Kent head to Birmingham in a few weeks for what is the first ever all-Southern Finals Day. Two games from glory, to mark a quite astonishing reversal of fortunes in their season. My dilemma? Finals Day is on a FA Cup qualifying round day. Decisions, decisions.