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Eagles survive middle-order wobble

Friends Life t20

Alastair Cook

Alastair Cook drives handsomely in his 51 not out that helped boost Essex's hopes of a Friends Provident t20 quarter-final

Kent Spitfires switched their home venue to the Brit Insurance Oval but enjoyed no change in luck as Essex Eagles held their nerve to win a Friends Provident t20 South Group thriller by four wickets and with only two balls to spare.

Chasing Kent’s useful total of 171 for six, Essex appeared to be coasting to their ninth win of the campaign as they reached 146 for three courtesy of identical 36-ball innings of 51 by Alastair Cook and Mark Pettini.

Opening bat Ravi Bopara had set them flying with a cameo 29 from 21 balls but, when Cook needlessly chipped to mid-on, the Eagles suffered a serious case of the jitters.

Even when Matt Walker fell leg-before to Simon Cook, the pick of Kent’s attack with 2-21, Essex still only needed 23 from the last 18 balls.

But a frugal over from Azhar Mahmood that leaked only three runs and accounted for Pettini, bowled by a yorker, set Essex nerves jangling again.

It took a cameo 25 from 13 balls by Scott Styris, including 17 off the penultimate over of the night from Matt Coles, to set Essex back on course.

Coles got his revenge by bowling the New Zealand all-rounder with his last delivery and then Mahmood bowled James Foster, but with six needed off the last over Essex were once again favourites.

Mahmood conceded a leg-side wide in the final over and, with nine of his fielders in the ring, could not prevent Tim Phillips from hitting the winning boundary.

Batting first after winning the toss, Kent lost makeshift opener James Hockley in the fourth over when, in aiming to flick a leg-side wide Styris, he over-balanced and dragged his back foot allowing Foster to whip off the bails for a sharp stumping.

Acting Kent captain Martin van Jaarsveld, their top-scorer in this season’s t20, had reached only three when he mistimed a lofted drive against Styris to clip a simple catch to midwicket and make it 41 for two.

Two run outs then left Kent deep in trouble at 73 for four, 12 overs into their innings. Geraint Jones was first to go after being called through for a suicidal single to Walker at mid-off.

Four runs later Denly also gifted away his wicket for 35 with foolish running.

Having turned the ball firmly into the covers he pushed off only to be sent back by non-striker Darren Stevens, and finished well short of his ground once the throw from Styris arrived.

Fresh from his success with England Lions, Stevens then teamed up with Alex Blake to add 53 in 4.3 overs before Blake holed out to long-off against Chris Wright, who caused most problems with his slow-ball bouncer.

All-rounder Azhar Mahmood nicked a Bopara long-hop to the keeper but with Stevens in full flight Kent added 91 in their final seven overs at 13 an over, Stevens finishing unbeaten on a 26-ball 50 with eight fours.