TWENTY20 CUP SEMI-FINAL, The Rose Bowl:
Kent 173-7 (20 overs) beat Essex 159-8 (20 overs)
Joe Denly's 36 set the platform for Kent's innings
Defending champions Kent progressed to the Twenty20 Cup final with a well-executed 14-run win over Essex.
Kent openers Rob Key (20) and Joe Denly (36) raced to 50-0 from five overs but from there they slumped to 77-3.
Danish Kaneria (2-28) and Ravi Bopara (3-36) held Kent to 173-7 with some crafty bowling to give Essex a chance.
The Eagles looked in good shape at 78-0 but the loss of Bopara (29) triggered a steady fall of wickets as the run-rate climbed and they struggled to 159-8.
Essex's hopes were hit by the loss of Graham Napier for just three runs, as he failed to continue his recent stunning form with the bat.
After Kent captain Key won the toss and decided to bat, he and fellow opener Denly raced to a half-century partnership with some canny shot-making.
Kaneria then applied the breaks, clipping Key's leg stump as the Spitfires' skipper attempted a reverse sweep.
The spinner then had Yasir Arafat caught at mid-off for 10, the batsman not getting to the pitch of the ball and scooping an attempted drive.
And Denly went soon after for 36, stumped by the alert James Foster off a James Middlebrook wide as Kent's innings faltered.
Martin van Jaarsveld (16), Darren Stevens (29) and Azhar Mahmood (24) all kept the score ticking over at more than a run a ball but all three fell to Bopara as Essex kept things reasonably tight in the field.
Justin Kemp (11) was the last wicket to fall, bowled by a full, straight one from Graham Napier as Kent failed to make hay in the closing overs.
Chasing 174 for victory, Essex openers Mark Pettini and Bopara progressed with little fuss to 78 without loss, before Bopara mis-timed an on-drive and chipped the ball straight back to bowler James Tredwell.
That brought danger man Napier to the crease, but he went quickly, lofting a Simon Cook delivery to extra cover, a scampering Key taking a difficult catch over his shoulder.
Grant Flower then went for 17, run out following a sharp stop at backward point by van Jaarsveld, leaving Essex needing 60 from 34 balls with seven wickets in hand.
And they were wobbling shortly after when poor communication between Foster and Pettini (54) led to the latter being run out.
Foster then went to a fine catch by van Jaarsveld and Ryan ten Doeschate lost his off stump attempting to slog Mahmood as the run rate climbed above two runs per ball.
And when Middlebrook was run out by Ryan McLaren attempting an unlikely second run, Essex needed 19 from five deliveries.
Tim Phillips drove into van Jaarsveld's hands with 16 needed from two balls as Kent saw out an ultimately comfortable victory.
Kent captain Robert Key said the wicket of Graham Napier was a key moment for his side.
"He had so much build-up and there was so much focus on him and how good a destroyer of bowling he is," he said. "Unfortunately nothing like that matters when you get into these games."