There was a time not so long ago when Kent would have virtually lost this match before they started such was their dearth of key batting personnel. But signs are growing that these days Kent cricket is made of sterner stuff. They posted a reasonably competitive score and then delighted in the sight of Imran Qayyum, their left-arm spinner, having the night of his life.
Somerset’s pursuit of 166 for victory was abruptly stilled in a remarkable sequence in which they lost six wickets for 20 runs in 25 balls and Qayyum was involved in all of them with five wickets and a run out. His return of 5 for 21 was a reward for his perseverance in a career where he failed to make the grade with three counties and only made his debut for Kent at 23.
Somerset are second in the Championship, won the Royal London Cup, and took their opening match in the Blast with a confident run chase against Glamorgan in Cardiff. There has even been talk of a treble. But when they succumbed to a 41-run defeat it represented their 11th successive loss in T20 at Canterbury. Whatever it is, it can’t be the noise of the crowd; they are a bit guilty cheering and hollering in Kent.
Qayyum showed good changes of pace on a wicket offering a little turn. His first wicket silenced the batsman who seemed most capable of strutting to victory – the highly-talented and long-limbed Tom Banton out for 28 when he holed out at long off for 28. There were two wickets in his second over: Peter Trego sweeping to deep backward square where Jordan Cox, an 18-year-old debutant, held a slick catch, diving forward, and produced a quicker, flatter one to bowl James Hildreth.
The run out of Tom Lammonby, another debutant, followed in the next over when Lammonby pushed the ball gently into the leg side, but did not share the enthusiasm of his captain, Tom Abell for a second run, Qayyum dashing from backward square to slide and return the ball to the wicketkeeper.
Before Somerset could digest the consequences of that there were two more wickets in the spinner’s next over as Roelof van der Merwe fell to a leading edge and Abell chopped a ball down by his feet and Ollie Robinson stumped him with alacrity.
With Somerset 74 for 7 after 11, the match was as good as won, but the Overton twins cobbled together a decent response before their partnership of 31 ended in the sort of comical fashion that might have come straight out of the script of Stan and Ollie. It will certainly go straight into Overton folklore.
The malarkey began when Mohammad Nabi held an excellent catch at deep midwicket, balancing balletically on his right foot a tiny distance from the rope. The only question for the umpires was whether he had touched the rope (he hadn’t), which in other words meant it was either six or out. That salient fact seemed lost on the Overtons. One of them imagined a chance to keep running, the other responded enthusiastically to the idea and they dashed three of the more pointless runs in cricket history while everybody else stood around and awaited the TV replays.
Qayyum had been the star performer, but there is pace, too, in this Kent attack in the presence of Adam Milne and Hardus Viljoen and that will serve them well. Viljoen took the vital wicket of Pakistan’s Babar Azam.
The Wurzels, Somerset’s “Scrumpy and Western” band, had penned a 30-second ditty to mark the arrival of Azam in the West Country. “With a gurt big strick I’ll knock ’em down,” the lyrcis predicted. It didn’t pan out like that: he made 7, showing one moment of quality when he whipped Hardus Viljoen over mid-on before the next ball cleaned him up like a Combine Harvester rushing through a wheat field.
Injuries had cut deep into Kent’s batting resources. The captain, Sam Billings, will be out for another fortnight after dislocating his shoulder in April, the regular stand-in captain, Joe Denly, was away on a training weekend with the England Test squad ahead of the Ireland Test and Heino Kuhn, who had been identified as the next captain in line, was absent because of concussion protocols having been hit in the neck by Fidel Edwards during last week’s Championship draw with Hampshire.
But Daniel Bell-Drummond, captain No. 4, was blessed by a skilful and confident T20 debut by Robinson, who struck 53 from 49 balls and, at 20, looked entirely at home until he became one of three victims to van der Merwe. When Billings returns, it will not immediately be to take the gloves, so Robinson has the chance to prosper and his fluent straight six against Jerome Taylor was one of the shots of the night.
Alongside him in a third-wicket stand of 61 in 37 balls, Nabi made light of Kent’s batting losses. He relished his opportunity to bat at No 4, including four sixes in his 34. Max Waller got him, the ball after he had been launched into the pavilion, but he had settled Kent into the contest. Twenty runs light was the common assumption, but Qayyum changed that in a matter of minutes.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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