Gloucestershire 116 for 4 (Phillips 50*) beat Kent 114 (Cox 48, Payne 4-15) by six wickets
Smith, 34, is the fifth-highest wicket-taker in the history of the competition and is just five wickets away from a place on the podium. Meanwhile both Payne and Howell are likely to finish the season in the top ten.
And yet, between them, they have zero international appearances. That looks most likely to change for Payne, who was called up to his third England squad this week for the white-ball tour of the Netherlands, but it nevertheless supports the counterintuitive fact that an excellent domestic record often hints as much at a player who hasn’t played internationally than one who has. After all, if you’re always playing here, it means you’re not playing there. The top five English wicket-takers in Blast history share just 28 T20i caps between them. Mastering this level doesn’t always result in becoming an apprentice at the next.
Of the three, Payne was without doubt the stand-out of the day as he took 4 for 15, including a wicket maiden to begin with and two wickets in two balls in his third over. But, whilst it was the type of performance that has meant Payne has been on England’s radar for over a year, it is Smith and Howell in particular who are products and masters of their home ground in Bristol.
The wicket is slow and it spins. Comfortable for those who know it, but not for those who don’t. A bit like sitting in someone else’s kitchen.
And Smith and Howell are anything but accommodating hosts. Smith, with his trademark low arm that seems to only get lower with every year, slid the ball into Kent’s right-handers, cramping them for room and then through a combination of natural variation and honed skill, would on occasion get the ball to grip and turn away. Both his wickets today were the result of a batter being beaten by spin, with only Sam Billings playing him with any real effectiveness as he repeatedly unfurled the reverse sweep.
Howell, on the other hand, bowled his one of everythings that either spat from the surface, seamed left, cut right or headed straight on. Howell describes himself as a fast spinner, a pick’n’mix bowler. The problem for Kent, however, was that for them it was more often than not don’t-pick-and-miss.
This was an exceptionally difficult wicket to bat on. One where both captains agreed at the close of play that 140 would have been par. Payne, opening the bowling, started with a wicket-maiden that set the tone for both sides as Gloucestershrie went on the charge whilst Kent never got going. Such was the nature of the wicket that Payne conceded that he had all but abandoned the traditional pace-on delivery in favour of a diet of cutters.
No one believed that 114 was ever going to be enough, but for a brief period during Gloucestershire’s chase it looked as if Kent could even bowl themselves to an unlikely victory as the hosts slipped to 46 for 4 after eight overs. Nerves for the home side were undoubtedly spreading.
The result gives Gloucestershire two wins from their first four matches, whilst Kent, winners of last year’s competition, have now lost their first four games and face an uphill battle to reach the quarter-finals.
Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby