Kent 180 for 4 (Bell-Drummond 89) beat Hampshire 177 for 7 (Weatherley 67, McDermott 57) by six wickets
The general mood around the Spitfire Ground was one of contentment heading into the visit of Hampshire, if only because it was Friday night and the sun was shining. Five defeats on the bounce, most recently here against Essex three days ago, had created a palpable apathy around a Kent white-ball team who, on paper at least, spark joy.
Within six balls, apathy had turned to hope. James Vince, one of the tournament’s form players with 406 runs from seven innings coming into tonight, had been seen off for a golden duck, off stump taken for a walk by Fred Klassen. A few hours later, they were celebrating a first win in six, toppling a target of 177 with three deliveries to spare. Somehow, they’re still fighting for this Vitality Blast.
The vibe of Canterbury, even the expectation, dialled up with Vince’s dismissal. The Hampshire captain sold it well, staring in the vague area Klassen’s delivery had pitched and deviated enough to leave him totally flummoxed. When Klassen repeated the trick to leave Toby Albert off-stump-less in his next over, making it 17 for 2, the crowd were locked in. Kent had decided to bowl first this time, and things were beginning to go their way.
The aggression was solely on the Australian, though he quickly gave up a run to the striker’s end when Weatherley called late after flicking straight to Klassen inside the circle at fine leg. This time, the Dutchman missed the stumps, and McDermott then lifted Grant Stewart over square leg to rub it in a little. An attempt to carve the next delivery over cover found Tawanda Mueyeye lurking in the deep.
It was from that point the visitors spluttered. Considering they were 102 for 2 midway through the 11th over, only adding 75 off the remaining 57 deliveries on a quick-scoring ground was an error from an experienced batting line-up, against an attack shorn of confidence.
There was willing, of course. Ross Whiteley and James Fuller, two middle-order bruisers who would not look out of place manning the doors at the rowdier establishments on Canterbury high street, failed to impose themselves, with 11 off 12 and 4 off 5 respectively.
Weatherley was willing, his own half-century (a second of the season) taking 35 deliveries, though found himself wallowing at the non-striker’s end while the big hitters failed to find their feet. Weatherley’s attempt to manufacture a six led to a steepling catch brilliantly taken by Stewart running around from short fine leg to square leg for Richardson’s only wicket, returning the favour after the reverse had ended Whiteley’s stay. Liam Dawson’s 25 lifted Hampshire to par, but the fact he struck the last three boundaries of the innings across the final 19 deliveries of the innings – the last of which, a six carved over point, came second ball of the final over – spoke of misjudgements of sorts.
Kent’s openers have been beacons amid the gloom, and they skipped to an opening stand of 59. That it ended in the final over of the powerplay looked a point of contention. Tawanda Muyeye looked bemused at being given leg before to the precocious John Turner, though the batter might not have been the best judge considering he was rolling over following an attempted lap.
The 22-year-old was lucky to have made it that far. Who knows what might have happened had James Fuller held onto a relatively simple chase to remove the opener on 5 and in turn, have Kent 9 for 1. That error was compounded when Fuller’s first over was blitzed for 21, courtesy of a brace of sixes sandwiching a four from Bell-Drummond.
That Bell-Drummond was Kent’s leading run-scorer with just 158 from six innings going into this match was as much an indication of the lack of support down the order as his own profligacy. Even though he has stayed true to a domineering approach, standing a little squarer in this format and chocking the handle a little lower to flick and whip a little easier, there was a sense he might need to do things differently. Perhaps turn the attacking dial down a notch and spend a little longer at the crease as one of the few in nick.
As it turns out, there was no compromise to be made. Why not both? He rocked back and forth, carving boundaries on both sides of the wicket, before standing firm and crunching the usually unhittable Dawson over wide mid on for his fourth six to take the rate under a run a ball (28 off 30).
There was scope for a cock-up. When Billings lost his off stump to Ellis in the penultimate over, which reaped just two runs for Kent, Hampshire figured they would prey on a team who haven’t closed well. Vince ramped up the anxiety with as many as three fielding changes before Chris Wood ran in for the first delivery of the final over.
It almost – almost – produced, with Mason Crane narrowly missing a run out of Leaning after Jordan Cox had tipped and run to midwicket. Alas, Kent held their nerve for a first win in six to hand Hampshire their first loss in as many.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo