Two big rearguard innings from both sides saw Sussex Sharks defeat Kent Spitfires by four runs in their Vitality Blast match at Hove.
Tom Alsop hit a scintillating 65 not out from 30 balls in his first T20 innings for Sussex, whilst George Linde’s 38 from 13 deliveries gave Kent the faintest of hopes of victory in their reply.
Alsop, on loan from Hampshire, hauled the Sharks up to 171 for 5 at the First Central County Ground and the home side then ran out winners as the Spitfires reached 167 for 7 in reply.
George Linde took 22 runs from the final over, bowled by George Garton, including a last-ball six over long on, to end on a remarkable unbeaten 38.
Sussex were impressive in the field, with Ravi Bopara picking up two for 23 from his four overs, and ultimately it was Alsop’s earlier surge with the bat that proved decisive.
The left-hander smashed three sixes and six fours after coming in at No 5, and it was a first Blast win of the campaign for Sussex following defeats against Glamorgan and Gloucestershire. Kent’s previous two group losses were against Somerset and Essex.
Qais Ahmad was Kent’s best bowler with two for 23 with his leg spin, but the holders’ reply started badly with Daniel Bell-Drummond bowled for a first ball duck by a beauty from Delray Rawlins that turned sharply to hit the top of off stump and Zak Crawley out for two from the first ball of the second over, gloving a lifter from Steven Finn to the keeper.
Sam Billings, however, took three fours from the next five balls from Finn and also drove Rawlins’ left arm spin and Tymal Mills’ thunderbolts for boundaries as he raced into the 20s.
Kent had rallied to 46 for two by the end of the six-over powerplay but Billings was deceived on 31 by a yorker from Bopara that hit him on the boot, and the Sharks T20 captain struck again in his next over, the 11th, by having Joe Denly caught at long off for 33 from a low full toss.
A 35-minute rain interruption followed Denly’s demise and, on the resumption, Jack Leaning fell for 15 and Jordan Cox for a 21-ball 29. When Qais, after hitting Finn for six and four, skied a catch off the former England paceman from the last ball of the 19th over, it was left only for Linde to hit out in vain against Garton before the Sharks’ victory was confirmed.
Sussex, asked to bat, struggled to get going at first with just 31 coming from the initial six-over powerplay and the scoreboard reading only 66 for two at the halfway point.
Mohammad Rizwan swung the first ball of the fifth over, Fred Klaassen’s second, straight to Cox at deep square leg to go for 13 and the Sharks managed a mere three fours in the powerplay.
Luke Wright did his best to get the innings going, lofting Linde’s slow left arm for six over long off and later adding two more sixes, to long on off Qais in the next over, the eighth, and heaved again over long on against the same bowler in the 13th over.
But from the next ball Wright hit Qais to long off, and his dismissal for a 34-ball 43 left Sussex on 90 for four. Josh Philippe and Rawlins had also gone by then, respectively skying to extra cover off Linde for 9 and bowled by Matt Milnes for 14, and a score above 150 looked unlikely.
Bopara soon fell too for 5, mishitting Qais into the offside, but Alsop immediately showed his aggressive intent by reverse hitting Linde for two fours before targeting Kent’s quicker bowlers as 68 runs were plundered from the last five overs.
Matt Quinn was pulled for four and six in the 18th over, Klaassen twice thumped straight for sixes in the 19th while Milnes, after bowling a waist-height no ball, saw Alsop take advantage of the subsequent free hit to glance to the fine leg ropes – a shot he repeated four balls later as 17 runs came from the final over, which also included a wide.
Kent head coach Matt Walker said: “The back end of our bowling performance cost us today, with 63 runs coming from their last four overs. I thought we were in control of things until then and so it is disappointing that they got 15 or 20 runs too many from our perspective.
“Then, with the bat, we lost two wickets early and got ourselves stuck a little bit either side of the rain break in mid-innings. As a result, it was a big ask to get 72 off the last five overs and although George [Linde] played brilliantly at the end it was too much even for him.
“We haven’t played our best cricket in any of these first three group games but it has still been close in a couple of them so I suppose that is a positive. We just have to dust ourselves down now ahead of the next match.”