Kent progress to Twenty20 Cup final after Essex defeat

Reigning champions Kent remained on course for a financial bonanza with a 14-run victory over Essex in the first semi-final of the Twenty20 Cup at the Rose Bowl today.

Having set a challenging total of 173 for seven, the holders looked set to miss out on a final meeting against Middlesex or Durham later tonight after Ravi Bopara and captain Mark Pettini shared a 78-run opening stand.

But the crucial run outs of Pettini, who top-scored in the match with 54 off 47 balls, and Grant Flower in the 15th over of the innings from all-rounder Ryan McLaren halted Essex's momentum and they were restricted to 159 for eight in reply.

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Jo Denly

Kent's Jo Denly survives an lbw call from Essex's Danish Kaneria

Kent's total had been built on a flying start from openers Rob Key and Joe Denly, who raced to a 58-run partnership in just over five overs which put them on course to overhaul their all-time Twenty20 total of 204 for five, which was also recorded against Essex.

But the introduction of Essex's spinners halted their rapid progress with Pakistan leg-spinner Danish Kaneria claiming two for 28, including a wicket with his third ball to remove Key.

The Kent captain had progressed to 20 off 12 balls, which included a reverse sweep for four from Kaneria's first delivery of the match, before he attempted to repeat the shot and was bowled around his legs.

It was a crucial breakthrough for Essex and began a mini-collapse of three wickets in the next four overs with Yasir Arafat, promoted up the order to build on the frenetic start, following in Kaneria's next over when he holed out to long off.

Kaneria's success persuaded Essex captain Pettini to also introduce off-spinner James Middlebrook, who claimed the prized wicket of the game to remove dangerous
strokemaker Denly.

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Robert Key

Kent captain Key was dismissed by Kaneria for 20

The Kent opener had hit 35 off 27 balls, which included five fours and the only six from the Essex innings, advanced down the wicket but was stumped off a wide down the leg-side to virtually halt his side's momentum.

Having made inroads into the top order with the spinners, Essex then worked through the middle order with England all-rounder Bopara claiming three for 36 with his mixture by varying the pace and length on a regular basis.

Darren Stevens raced to 29 off only 24 balls but both he and big-hitting Azhar Mahmood perished to Bopara and it took two fours in the final over from McLaren to push Kent past 170.

Essex enjoyed a similarly rapid start and once again it was the spinners who halted their progress with James Tredwell ending Bopara's eye-catching innings of 29 off 25 balls when he claimed a regulation return catch.

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Geraint Jones

Geraint Jones celebrates the run out of Essex's James Middlebrook

But perhaps the dismissal which turned the semi-final in Kent's favour - and put them on course for Champions League qualification for reaching the final and potential further riches from Sir Allen Stanford if they win the competition - was the dismissal of big-hitting Graham Napier.

The Essex all-rounder has become a potential target for the Indian Premier League with his performances this summer but scored just three on today's big stage before mis-timing an attempted drive over the top and allowing Key to run around from mid-off to take the catch.

Needing 61 off the final six overs, Essex's challenge halted with Grant Flower being run out after a brilliant stop at backward point from Martin van Jaarsveld and later the same over Pettini ran himself out after driving to mid-off.

Ryan ten Doeschate revived Essex's challenge by hitting 18 off nine balls - including a six and a four off successive balls from van Jaarsveld's occasional spin - but was bowled in the penultimate over by Mahmood to seal Kent's triumph.

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