Match Preview: Essex Eagles v Kent Spitfires FLt20, Chelmsford, Wednesday 20th June

Tuesday 19th June 2012

Men’s First Team

Essex Eagles v Kent Spitfires Friends Life t20 – South Division

County Ground, Chelmsford. Wednesday, 20 June. 7pm start

After making a superb start to their Friends Life t20 qualifying campaign at the weekend, Kent Spitfires travel to the Chelmsford cauldron on Wednesday to take on the Essex Eagles, under the lights, in a crucial south division clash.

Kent brushed aside old rivals Surrey by eight-wickets at Beckenham on Sunday to seal their first win of the group stages after a washout against Sussex Sharks last week, now they make the short journey through the tunnel to take part in another old rivalry.

Essex have only played one game so far – a 17 run defeat at the hands of Surrey – and need to get their qualifying bid up and running. Night matches between the two counties always seem to create an incredible atmosphere and Wednesday looks like being the same, something Kent spinner James Tredwell is clearly looking forward to:

“Generally there is a full-house. There is always a good atmosphere, even though the vast majority are supporting Essex! It is good to play in a high pressure environment as it really adds to the intensity of the occasion. They really rev it up at Chelmsford. Over the years, I've done pretty well there personally and the team has done okay too so let's hope it continues this time.”

The England off-spinner played an important role in Kent’s fine demolition of Surrey at the weekend; halting Surrey's winning start to the t20 season in the process. Tredwell was at his miserly best on a fine batting wicket, conceding just 18 runs from his four overs, as the Spitfires attack restricted the visitors to just 116 for seven after they took first use of the wicket.

Seamer Mark Davies, playing only the tenth domestic t20 match of his career, proved his class again by taking out the dangerous Jason Roy with the first ball of the match – on his way to superb figures of 1-17. Left-armer Adam Ball also played his part, in a brilliant all-round bowling display, with the England under-19s captain dismissing the late Tom Maynard and Matt Spriegel to reduce Surrey to 62 for five. Irishman Gary Wilson scored his second half-century of this season’s t20 campaign, but Surrey never made a lasting impression on a decent track as two wickets in the final over from Azhar Mahmood ensured Kent were well on top at the halfway stage.

In reply, Kent were calculated in their chase but always kept the scoreboard ticking over. Captain Rob Key and fellow opener Sam Billings added forty in the powerplay overs, for the first wicket, before the latter fell leg before to England quick Jade Dernbach for 18. Azhar followed soon after, stumped off spinner Zafar Ansari for six, but this meant t20 specialist Darren Stevens joined Key out in the middle and the big-hitter ensured an early finish for a bumper crowd.

The right-hander traded mainly in sixes, hitting four of them on his way to an unbeaten 43 off just 25 balls. His fourth six, a straight hit off spinner Ansari, was a classy way to hit the winning runs as the hosts sealed victory with nearly four overs to spare. The role played by Key cannot be under-estimated either, the skipper turned in a man-of-the-match display scoring a calming half-century to lead his side to a stroll in the Beckenham sun.

Before being destroyed by Key’s men on Sunday, Surrey looked in fine form – having won their opening two south division games; one of those was against Kent’s opponents on Wednesday.

Surrey batted first at the Kia Oval and were restricted to 128 for eight. Spinner Tim Phillips returned 2-19, opening the bowling for the Eagles, before all-rounder Graham Napier impressed – taking three wickets to keep the Lions at bay. Only Wilson shone for the hosts as his run-a-ball 33 gave the total some air of respectability.

Despite the chase looking quite straight-forward on paper, Essex imploded to hand Surrey the win. Things started off well with openers Ravi Bopara and Mark Pettini posting 44 in the powerplay overs, but once spinner Gareth Batty was introduced the visitors fell apart. The former England man took 3-20 as the Eagles soon slumped to 88 for eight. Phillips gave them some hope, with an unbeaten 16, but Essex were ultimately squeezed by a varied Surrey attack with Dernbach chipping in with 2-17. The Eagles could only muster 111 for nine in the end – therefore handing the hosts a 17 run victory.

Essex, like Kent, only currently have one overseas star operating in t20 cricket with New Zealander James Franklin offering all-round quality. Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor has recently expressed a desire to seal a deal with Paul Grayson’s side but this has yet to materialise. Batsman Owais Shah and all-rounder Ryan ten Doeschate offer IPL and international experience while wily t20 performers David Masters and Graham Napier make up the majority of the bowling attack. Essex will, however, be without Bopara for a large chunk of the qualifying campaign with the batsman currently playing for England in the ODI series against West Indies.

The last time the Spitfires travelled to Chelmsford for a t20 fixture was for a must-win qualifier in July last year. They didn’t disappoint – as a stunning all-round display from Stevens helped them secure a FL t20 quarter-final berth while eliminating their opponents in the process.

Stevens, excelling in a heated atmosphere, smashed a controversial 41 before claiming four priceless wickets to seal the win required to take the Spitfires through to a last eight meeting with Leicestershire and send a packed Chelmsford crowd home disappointed.

After being invited to bat first, Kent’s top-order all chipped in to post a daunting 183 for three. Joe Denly acted as the anchor to the innings with the opener batting through to the 18th over, scoring 69 from 54 balls, allowing others to cause carnage around him. Firstly he and Key (21) put on 49 for the first wicket before the skipper was clean bowled by Bopara. This enabled Kent’s main hitters to strut their stuff with Azhar looking in ominous form – striking three fours in a 19 ball 31 – before he was bowled by Kiwi Tim Southee. Stevens was next in and controversy ensued. On just five, the right-hander looked to have succumbed to a fine Scott Styris catch in the deep. As Stevens walked off the umpires called him back to check whether the ball had made contact with the turf before entering Styris’ hands, and, after plenty of deliberation, the batsman was given a reprieve much to the disdain of the home players and supporters.

Stevens certainly went on to make the most of his second chance. He soon plundered ten Doeschate for two maximums and, in tandem with Martin van Jaarsveld, added 32 from the last 12 balls to boost the Kent total. The medium-pacer then compounded the home side’s misery by starring with the ball.

Well positioned at 49 for one, Essex were in the game until Stevens started his wonder-spell. Firstly he seduced Adam Wheater out of his crease on 27, allowing Geraint Jones to complete an easy stumping, before cleaning up dangerman Shah for the same score. Another England batsman soon succumbed to Stevens when Bopara (11) chipped the bowler back for a return catch and the haul was completed as another big-hitter, ten Doeschate, saw his stumps castled by a quicker ball. At 87 for five Essex soon found themselves behind the game and despite 40 from Styris and a quick-fire Napier cameo the hosts fell short on 168 for nine. Pakistani duo Azhar and Wahab Riaz were also amongst the wickets – claiming five between them as Kent sealed the win.

The atmosphere was electric that night, and more is expected this Wednesday as Jimmy Adams’ side look to build on a fine start to their FL t20 qualifying bid.

Full team-news to follow.