Cricket: Kent still smarting from T20 elimination

PUBLISHED: 16:54 05 September 2019

Kent captain Sam Billings (pic John Walton/PA)

Kent captain Sam Billings (pic John Walton/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Kent will return to Specsavers County Championship action at Trent Bridge next Tuesday still licking their wounds after the Spitfires’ Vitality Blast elimination at the hands of Essex Eagles.

Despite signing Faf du Plessis for their final two short-form matches, Kent lost their last three T20 games on the bounce to be overtaken by Essex after losing last Friday night's final qualifier in Chelmsford.

Spitfires ultimately finished fifth in the South Group with 14 points - five behind group winners Sussex.

Yet, it was all so different to begin with. Having signed Adam Milne and Mohammad Nabi as their overseas stars, backed by South African paceman Hardus Viljoen on Kolpak terms, Spitfires won their opening five matches in succession and appeared nailed on for qualification.

The turning point came with an ankle injury to Milne in early August following Kent's 55-run defeat to Somerset at the Cooper Associates County Ground in Taunton.

The issue required surgery and Milne took no further part in the series. The same match also marked the end of Nabi's 10-game spell, and, following his return to Afghanistan, Spitfires' results nosedived.

Sam Billings, the Spitfires' captain, pulled no punches in summing up the campaign in saying that Kent had not merited a place on the knockout stages given the side's patchy form throughout the qualifiers, where they failed to win in their last five starts.

"We haven't deserved to go through, to be honest," conceded Billings. "In the back-end of the tournament we haven't played anywhere near our ability.

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"We lost our nerve at the important moments. You might expect it once, but for it to happen three times in a row is tough to take. It is hugely draining and frustrating.

"The side has changed dramatically with Nabi and Milne two huge misses. The balance of the side meant we were a batsman and bowler short. But the fact is, we didn't play well enough to go through."

Billings did point to one major positive from the tournament, however, in praising the batting performances of opener Zak Crawley who scored over 300 runs including his first two half-centuries in the format.

Billings added: "There have been so many people talking about Zak. He is a class act. He will play for England and will be as good as he wants to be.

"(The defeat to Essex) is a matter of other people, myself included, who haven't stepped up and didn't bat with him. We needed one more player to have a partnership with him and we would have won that game."

Kent, who lie fifth in the County Championship's top flight with three wins and 120 points, travel to the East Midlands knowing that victory over Nottinghamshire - the basement side - will virtually guarantee them Division One cricket for 2020 whilst resigning the hosts to life in Division Two.

Kent welcome experienced bowling duo Darren Stevens and Ollie Rayner back into their red-ball squad for the trip and will consider bolstering their spin options by including either Imran Qayyum or Marcus O'Riordan.

The Nottinghamshire game comes too soon for all-rounder Grant Stewart, although the 25-year-old Aussie is back in training following his hamstring tear.

According to head coach Matt Walker, hr is likely to play some part in the county's remaining four-day fixtures while overseas signing du Plessis is also unavailable for the match, but he too could feature next time out at against Yorkshire at the Emerald Headingley.

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