Denly delivers on Canterbury comeback
Joe Denly returned to haunt Kent with a classy unbeaten 90 as Middlesex triumphed by 48 runs in the Friends Life t20 South Group clash at Canterbury.
Denly had just one to his name after 13 deliveries and initially played second fiddle to Paul Stirling, who moved to 50 in 21 balls courtesy of a series of savage boundaries.
Ireland international Stirling was finally dismissed by James Tredwell for 63 in the 12th over to end a riotous opening stand of 127.
Yet Middlesex continued to make rapid progress following his departure and Eoin Morgan - released to play in this fixture by England along with Steven Finn - cleared the ropes on three occasions en route to 36 at two-a-ball.
Denly, who left Kent over the winter, may not have displayed quite the same level of flamboyance as his two team-mates, yet he was still able to strike 11 fours and a six in an attractive 66-ball innings that helped Middlesex to 207 for two.
With the exception of Tredwell and Mark Davies, every member of Kent’s attack came in for heavy punishment. The usually reliable Azhar Mahmood, who finished with 1-61, conceded 30 in one over alone as Stirling moved into top gear.
The hosts, missing skipper Rob Key after he sustained a neck injury in the warm-up, made a strong start to their reply, with openers Sam Northeast and Sam Billings striking 60 and 43 respectively, but ultimately fell some way short on 159 for seven.
Only one run came from the opening over, bowled by Davies, but Middlesex had 81 on the board after six.
That was almost entirely down to an astonishing assault from Stirling, who demonstrated exceptional hand speed and prospered with powerful aerial shots on either side of the wicket.
Azhar suffered particular pain at the hands of the Irishman, conceding four fours and a six in his second over, which also included an accidental beamer that flew high over stand-in captain Geraint Jones’ head for six no-balls.
After Stirling had holed out to long-on off Tredwell, Morgan picked up the baton with a typically brisk cameo, while Denly grew in confidence as his innings progressed, illustrated by successive fours in the 20th over off the beleaguered Azhar.
To their credit, Kent refused to give up and an opening stand of 90 in 10.2 overs between Northeast and Billings, who both started steadily before unveiling an impressive array of strokes, kept home hopes alive for longer than may have been anticipated.
Billings was eventually caught at cover off Gareth Berg for 43 and Darren Stevens swiftly followed when he provided Neil Dexter with a return catch.
Northeast moved to 50 from 35 deliveries, with five fours and a solitary maximum, before Middlesex reasserted their control in stunning fashion by claiming four wickets in as many balls
Northeast and Azhar, who had been dropped by Denly on four, each picked out Morgan at long-on off Dexter and Matt Coles was caught at short third man off Stirling before Alex Blake was run out without facing as he sought to make it back for a second at the non-striker’s end.
That ended the game as a contest, although there was still time for Jones to thump Toby Roland-Jones for the game’s ninth six before falling for 23.