Match Preview: Leicestershire Foxes v Kent Spitfires, FLt20 Quarter Final

Monday 1st August 2011

Men’s First Team

Leicestershire Foxes v Kent Spitfires, Friends Life t20 quarter final:

5pm, Saturday, 6 August 2011; Grace Road, Leicester

Rob Key’s Kent Spitfires travel north this weekend to play the biggest game of their season so far as they take on Leicestershire Foxes. The prize at stake for the winner? A trip to Edgbaston for finals day on Saturday, 27 August.

Both sides battled impressively through their gruelling 16 group games to make the quarter-finals whilst managing to avoid big t20 hitters such as Nottinghamshire, Durham and Lancashire in the last eight. Now, Kent and Leicestershire will both fancy their chances. A strong Spitfires side, which has gelled majestically in this competition, will look to out-gun the Foxes to secure their place in Birmingham’s competition showpiece.

Kent came through the toughest qualifying group, finishing third, leaving so-called ‘big names’ Surrey, Essex and Middlesex in their wake. It was a qualifying campaign that started at the Nevill Ground in Tunbridge Wells, against Somerset back in early June, and was full of thrills and spills as the Spitfires entertained some bumper crowds.

The road to the knockout stages started off in far from auspicious fashion as Kent lost their opening two games at the Spa town ground; firstly by nine wickets, against a rampant Somerset Sabres, and then by twenty runs against Hampshire Royals in a five-over rain-affected bash. However, for this campaign, Kent acquired the services of experienced Proteas seamer Charl Langeveldt and exciting Pakistani left-arm quick Wahab Riaz, and with the boost the Spitfires suddenly looked a different entity. The first win was chalked up away in Cardiff, against the Glamorgan Dragons, when a stunning 66-run partnership, in no time at all, from Riaz and Sam Northeast secured a six-wicket victory. The stand proved to be a turning point in the campaign for the Spitfires as they plucked victory from the jaws of defeat to get up and running.

A truly comprehensive eight-wicket win at Beckenham, against the Gloucestershire Gladiators, soon followed. Riaz was again the star of the show. He took a memorable hat-trick, amongst figures of 5-17. His feats were then matched by fellow countryman Azhar Mahmood who smashed a brutal 57-ball 106 to lead the Spitfires to glory on a murky evening. A couple of rain-reduced no results kept Kent’s unbeaten run going before Middlesex Panthers came to Canterbury for the first competitive game under the new permanent St Lawrence floodlights, and it proved to be a thriller to match the fantastic occasion.

After being put in, the home side slumped into disarray at 21-6. The experienced Geraint Jones (27) and James Tredwell (34*) then led a decent recovery as Kent posted a more encouraging 115-9 on a slow deck. The bowlers then showed superb skill and guile as the Panthers fell nine runs short of their victory target. Mahmood (3-14) and Tredwell (2-14) further endorsed their all-round talents. The win left Key’s men in a good position to pounce on a top-four place before the Panthers gained revenge in the return fixture at Uxbridge – claiming a 28 run win under the Duckworth Lewis method.

Kent quickly returned back to winning ways, two days later at Beckenham, as they brushed aside local rivals Surrey Lions by six wickets. 49 from Mahmood, against his former county, and a knock of 62 from Martin van Jaarsveld eased the home side to their victory target of 151.The topsy turvy campaign continued when Kent capitulated to 72, in front of the Sky television cameras at a spin friendly Rose Bowl, chasing a Hampshire total of 141-6.

The Spitfires soon put the disappointment out of their minds with three consecutive victories. The first was an eight-wicket mauling of the Essex Eagles at Canterbury when captain Key returned to form with a stylish 75 and Northeast then further showcased his blossoming t20 skills as his 25-ball 39 led the Spitfires home against the Glamorgan Dragons by five wickets. The trio of wins was completed when rain intervened at Bristol as Kent secured a seven wicket D/L win to leave them third in a tight south group with three group matches to play. The closeness of the group was typified when the Sussex Sharks ran out 15-run winners under the St Lawrence lights. The result meant Kent fell out of the qualification places, leaving them with a simple equation – win their final two games to secure a top-four berth. With the pressure on, two quite brilliant all-round displays followed.

Firstly, Key took his troops to a packed out Kia Oval and carnage ensued as the Spitfires batted first. A 40-ball 60 from Mahmood meant he continued his dazzling form and a bludgeoned 43 off 19 balls, including five maximums, from Darren Stevens led the visitors to an imposing 191 for nine. Led by opener Jason Roy (53), the Lions were always in the run-chase but superb fielding and frugal middle over bowling from Stevens (2-20) meant Kent kept ahead. It was then left to Riaz to show why he is one of the best death bowlers in world cricket. He took three quick wickets to wrap up a comfortable 15-run win and it was one down and one to go for Kent.

The following night, once again in front of the Sky cameras, the Spitfires travelled to a hostile County Ground to take on fierce rivals Essex, and, again, it was a typically spicy encounter. Kent batted first, and the entire top five contributed in a healthy score of 183-3. Opener Joe Denly anchored things, with a smartly crafted 69, before Mahmood (31) and Stevens biffed 41 off 25 balls to provide the fireworks.

Again Kent were excellent with the ball, and in the field, with Stevens taking centre stage. The medium-pacer took 4-21 in an inspired spell – clean bowling dangermen Owais Shah and Ryan ten Doeschate amongst them – to put Kent firmly in charge. The Eagles responded with 40 from Scott Styris, the New Zealander, but the Spitfires kept their nerve as Riaz and Mahmood claimed a brace of wickets apiece to secure a 15-run win and a date with the Foxes in the quarter-finals.

In the competition, so far this season, Mahmood has powered the Spitfires batting. The all-rounder has scored 394 runs at a healthy average of 35.81. He is closely followed by t20 expert, Stevens who has smashed 357 runs at an average of 51 – making him the highest English t20 run-scorer of all-time in the process. With the ball, Riaz has proved to be an inspired signing. His 19 wickets make him Kent’s leading light. Langeveldt and Mahmood follow with 13 wickets each. However, despite the pacemen taking the plaudits, it has been the middle-overs where the Spitfires have strangled teams and the low economy rates of Tredwell (6.52), Stevens (6.45) and Adam Ball (7.35) cannot be under-estimated.

The Foxes also proved to be a surprise package in their qualifying group as ten victories, coupled with only two defeats, meant they romped to the quarter-final stages in second place. Led by Matthew Hoggard or Aussie Andrew McDonald, in the absence of the former England bowler, Leicestershire are full of young, vibrant talent. The likes of star batsman James Taylor, dashing opener Josh Cobb and left-arm quick Harry Gurney have all played their part. Combine these with t20 experts in the form of all-rounder McDonald, Pakistani powerhouse Abdul Razzaq and former Kent keeper Paul Nixon, who has announced that he will retire at the end of the season, and the Foxes have found a recipe for success in t20 cricket, going back to the formative years of this game when they dominated the domestic scene.

McDonald is the mainstay of their side. His 510 runs, at an average of 63.75, make him the leading run-scorer in the 2011 competition so far. He opens alongside Cobb who is given a licence to thrill at the top of the order. His 338 runs come with a strike-rate of 153.63 – making them a dangerous pair and ones Key will be keen to dismiss early in the piece. They are followed by Taylor, 278 runs at 46.33, who keeps the board ticking over in the middle overs and Razzaq – the man who can win any game from any position.

In the bowling department, 24 year-old Gurney has led the way with 22 wickets leaving him in second position in the domestic leading wicket-taking list. Veteran left-arm spin bowler Claude Henderson has claimed 16 wickets, along with Razzaq, and provides important experience to the young Fox cubs.

At Grace Road, Leicestershire have been blighted by rain with three no-results but they have only lost one game on home turf and have recorded four victories. They are the form side in this competition – having won their last six games. It promises to be a keenly contested fixture as the Spitfires will be buoyed by two massive wins in their final group games. An explosive battle is promised and, by Saturday night, either the Spitfires or the Foxes will have booked their finals day place at Edgbaston on Saturday, 27 August.

Paul Farbrace, Kent’s director of cricket, will name his squad for the trip to the East Midlands later this week, and we will bring it to you here first, on the official Kent Cricket website.

The public bar in the Les Ames Stand will be open from 4pm on Saturday, with the match shown on the big TV screen. If you're unable to travel to Grace Road, then why not come and watch the match with fellow Kent supporters at the St Lawrence Ground. A range of food and drink will be available during the evening.