Conway and Gregory co-star in crushing ten-wicket victory at Canterbury
Somerset 169 for 0 (Banton 107*, Conway 51*) beat Kent 168 for 8 (Gregory 4-27) by ten wickets
There have not been many nights as extreme like this in the history of the Blast. A thick mist hung over Canterbury for much of the evening, so sinister that one half expected Sherlock Holmes to come springing out of the gloom at any moment and fire a round of bullets into the Hound as it leapt at Sir Henry’s throat on the path from Merripit to Baskerville Hall.
But when the gloom cleared, it did not reveal a detective in a deerstalker, but the tall frame of Tom Banton, whose lost form has also been a bit of a mystery since he pulled out of the Big Bash last winter citing bio-fatigue. A 47-ball hundred, to follow his 77 against Hampshire at Taunton on Friday night, was a welcome restatement of the talents that make him one of the most exciting T20 cricketers in the world.Kent could have gone top with a win, whereas Somerset needed victory to reach joint fourth, and it was Somerset who strolled it by 10 wickets, passing Kent’s moderate 168 for 8 with 26 balls to spare. Alongside Banton, whose fourth Somerset white-ball century finished on 107 from 51 balls, New Zealand’s Devon Conway chugged along happily for an unbeaten 51. With injuries to middle-order batsmen James Hildreth and Tom Abell, a potent opening partnership has come along with perfect timing.
England’s T20 side hardly has a Vacancies side hanging from the window, as far as top-order batsmen are concerned, and the prospects of Banton – and, for that matter, Nottinghamshire’s Joe Clarke – are not helped by the fact that they have also made their marks as opening batsmen, but both deserve to be constantly in the conversation.
It’s fair to say any video footage salvaged from St Lawrence mire is not about to be used by the ECB to promote The Hundred, where the sun is always shining and the spectators are awash with smiles, but in the real, no-nonsense world of the Blast, threatening weather and surly pitches can intrude upon the imaginary world of short-form cricket at any moment.
Banton made light of that, helped by a wet ball that hampered the bowlers all night. His seven sixes carried a satisfying arithmetical progression that told of his growing confidence: only 57 metres for his first six, as he picked out the short side, then a steady increase in range until he cleared 93 metres for the last as short side or long, it made no difference.
The St Lawrence Ground floodlights strove to keep conditions playable, and a sea fret tumbling in from Whitstable, seven miles to the north, was thought to be the culprit. Somerset won the toss and chose to field in the mist, and the decision paid off as they took seven catches, none more impressive than Lewis Gregory’s take over his shoulder to dismiss Alex Blake.
A wet ball made life demanding for the bowlers of both teams and Gregory again acquitted himself better than anybody. His first ball was hit straight for six by Daniel Bell-Drummond, making room to the legside, but he emerged from the gloom at the end of his four overs with four for 27 as Kent’s innings fell away.
Zak Crawley and Joe Denly were two prize wickets because both were going well enough for Kent to have visions of 180-plus. But Crawley fell short at deep midwicket and Denly was pouched at long on by Marchant de Lange, who overran the ball a touch but then wrapped bucket-like hands around it in unperturbed fashion.
Kent’s Powerplay had been sound enough – 53 for the loss of Bell-Drummond, who chipped the last ball of the six overs back to Craig Overton. But Somerset cantered through the Powerplay to make 73 in return, on top from the moment that Banton despatched the former Notts seamer, Matt Milnes, for four boundaries in the second over.
“I rode my luck to begin with, a few went just over the fielders but that’s cricket for you,” he said. “Some days they’re going to go straight to hand, so I’ll take it. I was nervous before the Hampshire game because obviously I had a few low scores, I think that’s the nature of how anyone would feel so I tried to exactly what I did last game and it came off.”
Banton can be hot-headed at times but on this occasion his shot selection was more assured than it often has been. If he gets that right on a consistent basis, he will be an awesome talent. That is for later: Somerset will just revel in their rising hopes of a place in the last eight and further proof that he is on song again.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps