Gloucestershire’s run of success in the NatWest T20 Blast South Group ended with a three-run defeat by Kent in a dramatic finish at Bristol.
The visitors posted what seemed a moderate 148 for seven after losing the toss, having been given a decent start by openers Joe Denly (51) and Tom Latham (27). Benny Howell claimed three for 29, while Andrew Tye conceded only 19 from his four overs.
In reply, Gloucestershire could manage only 145 for eight, despite 42 from Michael Klinger and Benny Howell’s rapid 37. Kagiso Rabada (one for 19) and David Griffiths (two for 22) were the pick of the Kent attack.
The hosts needed 16 off the last over, begun by Mitchell Claydon, but finished by Griffiths after the Australian has been ordered out of the attack for a second no-ball full toss above waist height.
The start of the match saw Denly help himself to early sixes off Matt Taylor’s first and second over, but Gloucestershire bowled well in the powerplay, with Liam Norwell bowling three overs for 19, to restrict their visitors to 46 without loss after six overs.
Even so, Kent looked to have laid the foundation for a decent total when with the total on 57 in the eighth over Latham was caught at deep mid-wicket off Howell.
Denly went on to a 33-ball half-century, with 4 sixes and 2 fours, before getting an under-edge to Tye and being bowled with the score on 94 in the 12th over.
It proved a turning point as Howell, Tye and left-arm spinner Tom Smith put the squeeze on Kent. Only 17 runs were added in the next four overs, which saw the demise of Sam Northeast and Alex Blake.
A brief Darren Stevens cameo of 20 off ten balls was the best the visitors could manage and their total looked below par in good batting conditions.
Gloucestershire made a slow start chasing the modest target when Hamish Marshall was run out for a single by a smart piece of fielding from Kagiso Rabada off his own bowling.
Ian Cockbain was struck on the helmet by Rabada before being bowled for eight by a good delivery from Mitch Claydon. At the end of the powerplay Gloucestershire were 37 for two, but Rabada had bowled three of the six overs, clearly in an attempt to remove danger-man Klinger.
The Gloucestershire captain looked well set in the 12th over when a leg-side wide from James Treadwell saw him stumped by Sam Billings. At the end of that over the hosts were 74 for three.
Howell went straight on the attack, blasting a straight six and a four off the next over from Fabian Cowdrey. With Chris Dent already going well, it was the impetus Gloucestershire needed.
Dent went for 28 to an injudicious scoop shot off Griffiths that saw him glove through to Billings and at 104 for four in the 15th over the game was still in the balance.
Kent took control when Kieran Noema-Barnett was caught at mid-on off Claydon and Gareth Roderick was bowled by a full ball from Griffiths.
Rabada returned to bowl Tye with the second ball of the penultimate over, but drama ensued when Claydon’s first delivery of the last over slipped and he had to hand over to Griffiths.
That drama continued as Howell, was caught off another no-ball for height, only to be run out as he tried to claim a second run. Griffiths then held his nerve and the home side fell agonisingly short.
Gloucestershire captain Michael Klinger admitted: “We have played smart cricket in the T20 up to now, but that wasn’t the case tonight.
“Benny Howell was striking the ball well from the moment he went in and the middle order players who batted with him got out to some poor shots instead of concentrating on giving him the strike.
“It is a setback and a missed opportunity because we hoped to nail a quarter-final place tonight. Now we face a big game against Glamorgan on Sunday.”