Kent 191 for 4 (Billings 56*) beat Essex 163 (Bopara 42, Milne 4-15) by 28 runs
Despite dropping four catches in a sloppy fielding display Kent moved into second place in the Vitality Blast T20 South Group following their 28-run win over basement side Essex in Canterbury.
England white-ball specialist Sam Billings led the way for Spitfires with a belligerent unbeaten 56 for his part in a match-defining hundred partnership with Marcus Stoinis then New Zealand firebrand Adam Milne bagged four for 15 to deny basement side Essex a second win.
Batting first after winning the toss, Kent scored at more than 9.5 an over to set Essex a testing 191 for 4 to beat.
Having had their three previous games rained off, Kent made a reasonable start through Joe Denly and Daniel Bell-Drummond with an opening stand worth 43.
Denly pulled two short ones from Jamie Porter to the midwicket ropes either side of a clipped six over long-on against Peter Siddle.
Essex skipper Ryan ten Doeschate introduced the leg-spin of Adam Zampa in the fifth over of the powerplay, which paid immediate dividends when Daniel Bell-Drummond holed out to Dan Lawrence on the ropes at cow corner.
Heino Kuhn posted the home 50 with a lofted on-driven boundary against Siddle as honours finished even with Kent on 51 for 1 come the end of the powerplay.
Kuhn went aerial to launch successive leg-side, sixes in Ravi Bopara’s only over, but off-spinner Simon Harmer struck in his first, having Denly superbly caught low down at deep mid-wicket by Paul Walter having scored 22 off 19 balls, yet still 10 came off the over.
Kuhn’s fun ended when he under-edged an attempted sweep against Zampa to give keeper Adam Wheater a leg-side catch.
Kent’s progress was temporarily interrupted by the low sun dazzling the players and forcing play to be halted for 13 minutes as Kent resumed to reach 87 for three at the innings mid-point.
It was Stoinis, the Australian all-rounder, and his Spitfires’ skipper Billings, who share a flat in Canterbury, who then dazzled during a century stand.
Stoinis, in his first innings since joining the club, hit successive sixes off Harmer, the second of which sailed over the Frank Woolley Stand and out of the ground.
Billings reached 50 from 35 balls with six fours and a six but Stoinis missed the landmark when he was run out for 47 from 33 balls in the final over. The pair added 106 in 11.1 overs, a fourth-wicket record for Kent against Essex.
The Essex pursuit started badly when Wheater missed Denly’s second ball which feathered off stump to dislodge the bail. Denly struck again, having Varun Chopra caught at extra cover as ring-rusty Essex, in their first action for 10 days, reached 49 for two in the powerplay.
Paul Walter and Ten Doeschate added 64 inside seven but Ten Doeschate dragged onto his stumps when heaving across the line against Calum Haggett as Essex reached 83 for three after 10 overs.
Walter tossed away his wicket by driving an Ivan Thomas length ball straight to mid-off, bringing in a limping Dan Lawrence and Wheater, acting as his runner.
With the asking rate rising to 13 an over, Ravi Bopara drove Imran Qayyum for six and four in an over but Lawrence was caught on the slide by Kuhn at long off to give Haggett a second scalp.
Denly, who had Harmer dropped in his final over, finished with two for 24, but Harmer was run out moments later by Billings’ impudent back-handed flick onto the stumps as Essex risked a second to Bell-Drummond.
With 66 required from 24 balls Bopara was dropped by Kuhn at long on then, two balls later Coles was downed by Stoinis of the luckless Haggett.
Bopara’s luck ran out for 42 when he clubbed an Adam Milne bumper to Blake in the deep then, when Milne yorked Siddle and then Coles to end Essex’s slim victory hopes.
Billings said: “We were rusty in the field and might have been better with the ball, but we had Adam to thank at the end for showing his class. From that display we can certainly touch up and improve on our bowling and fielding, but it’s another important two points.
“Marcus is a world-class player, he’s shown that in the IPL, for Australian and in the BIg Bash and it’s great to have him aboard. Marcus brings another dimension to our batting and even more power to our middle order.”
His Essex counterpart, Ten Doeschate, said: “The numbers don’t lie. I feel we’re not far away but at vital moments in games we’re just letting things slip away and today was another example of that.
“We had them three down, with three really good players out, for Kent to reply with a great partnership between ‘Bilbo’ and Stoinis. A lot of good things came out of tonight, especially with the ball, but we need to build from that.
“We felt we were chasing a little bit too much out there, we probably let them have 15 too many with the ball and could have been a little bit smarter when we batted.”