Bopara fires Essex past Kent
Essex moved second in the South Division of the NatWest T20 Blast after Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate produced a run-chasing masterclass to beat Kent by six wickets at Canterbury.
England all-rounder Bopara and returning captain ten Doeschate compiled a 104-run partnership from just 65 balls to rescue Essex and prevent a middle order collapse.
Bopara followied his 162 in the recent LV=County Championship meeting on the same ground by smashing three sixes and eight fours on his way to an unbeaten 81 from just 44 balls as Essex completed a fourth successive win batting second.
It was far from plain sailing for the visitors however as seasoned campaigner Stevens opened with a wicket maiden, dismissing Essex's in-form batsman Mark Pettini for a third-ball duck.
However, six boundaries in eight balls, three apiece, from Jesse Ryder and Tom Westley got the Essex challenge back on track.
Confusion brought an end to danger-man Ryder's 20-ball 32 as he was run out by a direct hit from Adam Riley and he was joined in the dugout by Westley (27) in the following over.
An excellent piece of stumping from Billings off a Stevens wide ended Westley's innings, with the two quick wickets leaving Essex struggling at 61-3.
Then came the century stand between Bopara and ten Doeschate, the latter buoyant from a superb caught-and-bowled effort to dismiss Alex Blake in the first innings. Ten Doeschate eventually fell three short of a half century when he was caught at third man off the bowling of David Griffiths with 25 required to win.
Ben Foakes (five not out) provided ample support for Bopara, who hit Griffiths over his head to see Essex home with an over to spare.
After winning the toss and electing to bat, veteran Rob Key and England prospect Daniel Bell-Drummond got the Spitfires off to a flying start as they forged an imperious 119-run opening stand in 12 overs.
The Kent captain led the way with six fours and two sixes on his way to a 40-ball 62, while former England Under 19 opener Bell-Drummond struck four boundaries and a six on his way to 48.
After conceding 25 from his first two overs - including two no-balls and a wide - Essex seamer Tymal Mills found redemption by making a much-needed breakthrough with two wickets in the 13th over.
The 21-year-old found the edge of Bell-Drummond's bat to have him caught behind by James Foster with his first ball back, before adding the scalp of Key four balls later as the Spitfires talisman played around a straight delivery.
David Masters - making his first appearance in the t20 Blast - was frugal as ever, conceding just 23 runs from his four overs and well as bowling all-rounder Darren Stevens for six.
Wicketkeeper-bastman Sam Billings made 26 before becoming Mills' third victim, while Sam Northeast (21 not out) continued the middle order resistance before Adam Ball offered one final flurry, hitting successive boundaries from the last two balls of the innings as Kent posted a respectable 189-5, although it proved too few for the Spitfires.