Match Preview: Kent Spitfires v Sussex Sharks FLt20, St Lawrence Ground

Monday 11th June 2012

Men’s First Team

Match Preview: Kent Spitfires v Sussex Sharks FLt20, St Lawrence Ground

Kent Spitfires v Sussex Sharks, Friends Life t20 – South Division


The opening matchof the 2012 Friends Life t20 tournament will be played at the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury following severe flooding at The Nevill – click here for more information.

As always, Kent face a tough qualifying group in the south region as they take on Sussex, Surrey, Middlesex, Essex and Hampshire across ten mouth-watering clashes. Five are played at home – one at Beckenham andfour at Canterbury (following thevenuechange for Tuesday's match)– and five away as the Spitfires chase a top-two position to progress through to the quarter-finals. If they just miss out on this, the two best third-placed sides out of the three qualifying league’s also move into the knockout stages. The main prize? A place at Finals Day in Cardiff on Saturday, 25 August.

Rob Key’s team face a tough opener – with old rivals Sussex, led by Michael Yardy, always providing stern opposition. With two overseas players allowed in FL t20 cricket, the Sharks could use up their full-quota. Experienced New Zealander Scott Styris will definitely play with the all-rounder joining the county after a stint at Essex last season. His explosive batting and canny medium-pace bowling make him a shrewd acquisition for the south-coast outfit. He could be joined by tall Queenslander Steve Magoffin. The fast-bowler has impressed during the opening months of the season and could now have earned himself an extended stay at Hove. Add t20 specialists, such as England all-rounder Luke Wright, prolific run-scorer Chris Nash and Yardy, himself, to the line-up and Sussex look formidable on paper, but the Spitfires will be looking to gun them down.

The home side will only have one overseas player in the their ranks for the start of the tournament – West Indian batsman Brendan Nash – but the return of Pakistani star Azhar Mahmood from IPL action will feel like a new signing. Azhar, who impressed playing for the Kings Punjab XI last month, is an integral member of the Spitfires limited-overs team. Last season the all-rounder, promoted to number three in the batting order, plundered 485 runs at an average 40.41, a haul that included his maiden t20 ton off 57 balls against Gloucestershire at Beckenham. Add 14 wickets into the mix and it shows he is still a world-class performer at this level.

Kent, however, are far from a one-man side. Last season Darren Stevens became the most prolific run-scorer in domestic t20 cricket, and with his dangerous medium-pacers he remains one of the most valuable t20 assets on the county circuit. Slower bowlers James Tredwell and Adam Ball look set to continue their containment roles in the middle overs – as they did to great effect last season. Quick bowler Matt Coles will look to continue his development as the Spitfires strike bowler after a superb start to the season, and young batsmen Sam Billings and Daniel Bell-Drummond could add some youthful exuberance, and big hitting, to the Kent batting line-up. The side looks balanced, as Head Coach Jimmy Adams aims to take the side one step further than last season when the St Lawrence outfit suffered a heart-breaking quarter-final defeat against eventual tournament winners Leicestershire Foxes at Grace Road.

Last season, Sussex edged the head-to-head in qualifying with a washout at Hove being followed by a 15-run success for the Sharks under the Canterbury floodlights in July.

The visitors batted first and were powered by England wicketkeeper Matt Prior. His 89, from 59 balls, included nine boundaries and two sixes as he dominated their total of 159 for six. At the 15 over mark it looked as though Sussex would post a much more daunting total having made their way to 133 for three but fine death bowling from overseas duo Wahab Riaz (3-22) and Charl Langeveldt (2-31) allowed Kent to fight back.

In reply, opener Joe Denly fell to spinner Ollie Rayner, now with Middlesex, in the second-over as Kent always struggled to keep up with the required run-rate. Once Azhar was run-out by fellow countryman Umar Gul, the game looked up at 44 for three but Stevens showcased his vast talents with a typically well-crafted 65. His unbeaten knock was all in vain though with the lower-order succumbing to Gul (3-26) as the hosts wound up just short.

Kent did recover in their final two games, however, to claim crucial wins over old foes Surrey and Essex to seal a quarter-final berth. Sussex also made it through to the final eight before they were struck down by Lancashire Lightning at Hove.

This match will now be played under floodlights at the St Lawrence Ground, gates open 5pm, match starts 7pm – click here for tickets

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Photo Sarah Ansell