Kent Spitfires 383-7 off 50 overs (Billings 135 not out, Northeast 132, Bell-Drummond 61, Leach 3-53) beat Somerset 371 (Compton 56, Barrow 54, Groenewald 52 not out, Thomas 49 not out, Trego 38, C Overton 36, Gregory 35, Bollinger 3-77) by 2 runs under the Duckworth-Lewis method.
Somerset fought their way back to almost overhaul a massive Kent score at the County Ground last Thursday in yet another nailbiting finish in the Royal London Cup.
An incredible 754 runs were scored during the course of the day, with Kent keeper Sam Billings blasting an astonishing 135 not out off just 58 balls.
Yet the match still went down to the final delivery with Tim Groenewald finding himself on strike with it all to do for the second time in a week.
Just two days after hitting a single off the last ball at Trent Bridge to secure a tie against Notts, Groenewald could only steal a leg bye off the final delivery this time, Somerset losing by an agonising margin of two runs.
If the rain hadn’t intervened just before they were due to bat, reducing the innings by two overs and enforcing a Duckworth-Lewis calculation, Somerset would almost certainly have won. Frustratingly Somerset finished the game – in bright sunshine – on the losing side, despite having a better run rate.
That Somerset got that close to victory was though a huge achievement in itself. Nick Compton and Pete Trego laid a decent platform and there were some good, attacking contributions from keeper Alex Barrow and all-rounders Craig Overton and Lewis Gregory. Yet despite this, Somerset were still a long way from their target when the eighth wicket fell on 268 at the end of the 39th over.
But if the match was essentially over with Kent’s bowlers through to the tail, no-one had bothered to tell Groenewald and Alfonso Thomas who shared an incredible partnership worth 103 in nine overs at a rate of 11.4 to take the match down to the wire, both recording their highest List A scores in the process.
Kent were indebted to a staggering innings by Billings who blasted 17 fours and five sixes off the Somerset attack.
He came to the crease with Kent in trouble at 166-5 in the 33rd over. Somerset had been keeping things extremely tight and Jack Leach on his return to the first XI had picked up 3 three wickets.
Billings joined opener Sam Northeast at the crease, who was playing what would usually be the anchor role, were it not for the fact that he finished with a strike rate of exactly 100 himself.
The pair proceeded to put on 157 in just 13 overs. Thomas, Gregory and Groenewald’s figures all took a hammering, all three going for more than 80 runs each. The 38th over was perhaps the most destructive with Billings take 22 off Groenewald, including two sixes and two fours.
Finally Northeast’s long innings was ended in the 46th over when he was caught by James Hildreth off Thomas for 132 at exactly a run a ball. He hit 14 fours and one six.
Kent were 323-6, but Billings was not done yet, hitting Gregory for three fours in the next over and then taking a six and three fours off the next from Thomas.
Thomas had some minor consolation by having Calum Haggett caught by Colin Ingram for 1, but Billings again responded with attack, taking a six and two fours off the penultimate over. That only seven came off the final six balls was something of an anti-climax. He finished with a phenomenal strike rate of 232.75.
Earlier, Kent had got off to a solid start before being pegged back in the middle overs. Northeast and Daniel Bell-Drummond shared an opening stand of 117 in 20 overs, before Leach broke picked up his first wicket, having Bell-Drummond stumped down the legside by Barrow for a near run-a-ball 61, containing nine fours.
Brendon Nash was the next man to go and the second to the Barrow/Leach combination, though caught this time for just 8, with the score on 131.
Gregory nipped out Darren Stevens, caught by Thomas for just two, and then Leach claimed his third when Fabian Cowdrey was caught by Overton for 11. When Trego had Blake caught by Marcus Trescothick without scoring, Somerset might have been forgiven for thinking it was their day.
But then Billings strode to the crease…
(Somerset bowling figures: Thomas 10-0-82-2, Gregory 10-0-89-1, Groenewald 8-0-83-0, C Overton 5-0-31-0, Leach 10-0-53-0, Trego 7-0-36-1.
Just as Somerset were due to start their innings, the County Ground was hit by showers. While the Taunton faithful might have been hoping the rain would stick around, it perhaps ultimately cost them the match.
Two overs were lost and with inexplicable competition rules preventing them from being made up past the scheduled 6.15pm finish, Duckworth-Lewis calculations came into play. Although Kent had been scoring at 7.66 runs per over, just 10 runs were taken off Somerset’s required total, meaning they needed 374 in 48 overs – an even huger ask.
Somerset’s innings got off to the worst possible start. After hitting a boundary, Trescothick was caught by Tredwell to give Doug Bollinger the first of three wickets.
Compton and Trego though set about establishing a platform, putting on 78 runs in 14.2 overs, before Trego was needlessly run out, backing up too far down the pitch to a single that was never there. Compton had hit the ball straight to Northeast who threw down middle stump at the non-strikers’ end with a direct hit. Somerset were 88-2.
Compton moved on to his second 50 in as many games, reaching the milestone with a boundary off Tredwell. But, trying to force the pace off Stevens, Compton was bowled for 56 off 59 balls with eight fours in the 21st over and Somerset were 130-3.
Six runs later, Hildreth was adjuedged lbw to Tredwell for 3 and when Alex Barrow joined Colin Ingram the required run rate had climbed from 7.79 to exactly 10.
Ingram fell shortly afterwards. He had been dropped early in his innings, but was ultimately caught by Haggett playing an attacking shot off Claydon for 20.
Somerset had become becalmed, losing two wickets for just 11 runs in five overs.
The arrival of Lewis Gregory soon changed the tempo of the innings as he and Barrow put on 67 in just seven overs. While it was still highly unlikely Somerset could pull off a shock victory, keeping up the run rate as much as possible was vitally important as such calculations might help decide qualification later on the competition.
The pair were particularly severe on Haggett, taking 15 off one over, with a four for Gregory and consecutive boundaries from Barrow. In the former Somerset bowler’s next over, they took 14 more, with two further boundaries for Barrow.
Finally Gregory missed a slow ball from Cowdrey and was bowled for 35. Somerset were 211-6 and it seemed the game was almost over.
But the blossoming of Somerset’s young all-rounders means we bat extremely deep these days and Craig Overton joined Barrow to put on 55 in five overs to get Somerset up with the run rate.
In the 36th over, Barrow hit Mitchell Claydon down the ground for his eighth four to reach his 50 off 39 balls and then Overton took two further boundaries as he made his way to an eventual score of 36 off just 18 balls. Overton was finally was caught by Cowdrey off Bollinger with the score 266-7 in the 39th over.
When, two runs and three balls later, Barrow finally departed, caught attempting a scoop shot, for an excellent 54 off 47 balls, it looked game over.
But not to be undone by the all-rounders above them in the batting order, and despite Thomas being dropped early on, he and Groenewald took the attack to the Kent bowlers.
Groenewald hit two sixes early in his innings and soon boundaries were coming thick and fast for both batsmen.
A required rate of 43 from three overs, and then 28 from two, would have been a tall order for top order batsmen. But Groenewald and Thomas kept up with the rate, leaving themselves 15 to get off the last over to be bowled by Claydon.
Thomas hit the first ball for four and followed it with a single. Groenewald hit another four in the air to the midwicket boundary, narrowly landing inside the rope, and it looked as if Somerset might pull it off. Groenewald and Thomas could only manage a single each off the next two balls, leaving Groenewald needing to hit a 3 to tie or 4 to win off the last ball.
This was a truly remarkable game of 50 over cricket.
Some 754 runs were scored in the day and yet again the Royal London Cup served up a last-ball thriller.
But however good a one-day team Kent are, after this game and two T20 fixtures, Somerset have now been on the receiving end of three defeats to the Canterbury side this year.
Somerset will reflect on how they allowed an opposition team – a division below them in the championship – to go from 166-5 to 383-7.
Billings does have one other List A 100 to his name – 143 off 113 balls against Derbyshire in 2012 and Tim Groenewald must be getting worried that the Kent keeper is saving his best form for their encounters.
But this innings was in another league. He dispatched Somerset’s attack to all corners and it seemed we had no answer on a flat pitch and fast outfield. It was a shame after we’d used the Trent Bridge wicket to good effect just two days before, restricting a strong Notts batting line-up to a near manageable total.
Again the positives from this game came from the fact that we put up a fight against the odds and didn’t capitulate as we had so often in 2013. The stronger Somerset mindset of 2014 was much in evidence during our innings on Thursday.
With only Trescothick and Hildreth falling in single figures, all of Somerset’s batsmen made a contribution and kept their side in the hunt until the final ball. It was an exciting, attacking approach to batting. Which very nearly paid off.
It’s worth noting that Kent’s run rate was (overall) 7.66 runs per over. Somerset, who finished on the losing side, had a run rate of 7.73.
Thanks Messrs Duckworth and Lewis…
Afterwards Marcus told the official club website how disappointed he was, but perhaps surprisingly attributed the defeat more to the fall of Somerset wickets than the Billings’ attack on Somerset’s bowlers.
He said: “I’m very disappointed right now to get so close but miss out by such a small margin. We knew it was always going to be close but we gave ourselves an opportunity but we probably lost too many wickets as we were going along that was the disappointing part. So close yet so far.
“They had two guys who got hundreds which was the difference while we got so close and everybody chipped in and played their part and put us into a winning position.
“However if you get two guys in and one scores 150 which is realistic then you are probably going to come out on top.
“It was nip and tuck into that last over and we got ourselves back into the game but we lost too many wickets.
“Billings played out of his skin which made it pretty tough for us in the field. It was a bit like facing Jos Buttler but being on the other side.”
Sam Billings told the BBC website: “That was one of the best games of cricket that I have ever played in.
“It was unbelievable stuff. I probably wouldn’t be saying that if Somerset had taken four off the last ball, but it just kept on ebbing and flowing right until the end.
“I had one of those days where you think you can hit every ball for six and thankfully for me it came off.
“I have come into a good bit of form and I just kept on going with it and it was a lot of fun.”
Somerset: ME Trescothick*, NRD Compton, PD Trego, CA Ingram, JC Hildreth, L Gregory, C Overton, AWR Barrow†, TD Gronewald, AC Thomas, MJ Leach
Kent Spitfires: D Bell-Drummond, S Northeast*, F Cowdrey, B Nash, D Stevens, S Billings†, A Blake, C Haggett, J Tredwell, M Claydon, D Bollinger