Key guides Kent
Captain Rob Key maintained his composure to withstand a fierce Sussex fightback to guide Kent into a battle of the underdogs in the Twenty20 final at Edgbaston.
Former England batsman Key hit an unbeaten 68 off 54 balls to help Kent overcome Sussex by five wickets and seal their place in the final against Gloucestershire, the conquerors of favourites Lancashire earlier in the day.
It sets up a final between the two unfancied sides from the semi-finals after Key successfully kept his nerve to seal victory in the final over just as Sussex thought they had the final in their sights.
Needing 23 to win off the final two overs, Key hit two boundaries off the penultimate over from James Kirtley to leave his side needing just eight off the final over and set up a meeting with Gloucestershire.
Chasing Sussex’s modest 140, Kent were on course during a 65-run opening stand between Key and Joe Denly spanning only seven overs which appeared to have put them on course for a comfortable triumph.
But the loss of five wickets for 53 runs in only 11 overs put Kent under pressure only for Key to guide them home with two sixes off Mushtaq Ahmed and five other boundaries.
Kent had earlier produced a stunning fightback of their own to halt an early Sussex onslaught and ensure they only had a modest target to chase.
Sussex looked on course to claim only the second score over 200 at Edgbaston when they advanced to 59 without loss from their opening five overs after winning the toss and deciding to bat.
Openers Chris Nash and Murray Goodwin took full advantage of some wayward early bowling from Sri Lankan recruit Lasith Malinga and Yasir Arafat.
But a sudden collapse of nine wickets for 59 runs in 58 balls through a combination of accurate bowling and brilliant fielding and gave Kent hope of reaching the final.
Nash was the first to fall when he top-edged South African all-rounder Ryan McLaren high in the air having hammered 27 off only 16 balls to give Sussex a flying start.
England hopeful Luke Wright, who is awaiting Monday’s announcement of the final squad for the ICC World Twenty20 championships with interest, would have hoped to have impressed the selectors with another strong display.
Instead, Wright accelerated Sussex’s demise when he top-edged an attempted pull facing off-spinner James Tredwell and was caught at short third man for three.
But it was a hat-trick of run-outs which completed Sussex’s demise with Goodwin, who had progressed to 38 off 35 balls, being run out going for a two when he was beaten by a throw from Key from backward point.
Matt Prior was caught in the deep two overs later and then Kent claimed two run outs in the same over with Chris Adams brilliantly run out by McLaren at short mid-wicket and then Robin Martin-Jenkins failing to beat Tredwell’s direct throw from mid-on to the non-striker’s end as he attempted to steal a single.
Having slumped to 102 for six with all their specialist batsmen out, Sussex needed their lower order to bail them out of trouble but instead lost their last four wickets in the final six overs and were limited to only 31 runs in the final five overs of the innings.
It was the difference between winning and losing with Key able to withstand Sussex’s attempt to strangle their reply and put them into the eagerly-awaited final.