A TREMENDOUS knock from Ravi Bopara saw Essex rally to beat Kent by six wickets at Canterbury in the NatWest T20 Blast.
The Eagles looked up against it after Kent made 189 for five - Tymal Mills' three-wicket haul did little to tame the Spitfires - but a brilliant innings from Bopara saw the visitors emerge as comfortable victors.
Ably assisted by captain Ryan ten Doeschate, the England all-rounder followed up his 162 in the recently-concluded LV= County Championship meeting on this ground with 81 off just 44 balls to get Essex over the line with six balls to spare.
Rob Key was nearly stumped by James Foster while facing David Masters, but the Kent captain soon loosened his shoulders alongside Daniel Bell-Drummond.
Ryan ten Doeschate scored 47 runs. Picture: GAVIN ELLIS/TGS PHOTO
Reece Topley slowed Kent down a little, yet Bell-Drummond and Key survived to reach 97 by the halfway point.
Key would pass the 50 mark, but Bell-Drummond could not reach the same milestone as Mills found his edge two runs short - Foster took the catch.
Mills then made it two wickets from a single over by clean bowling Key for 62 from 40 balls and all of a sudden Essex had hope.
The Eagles' fightback gathered pace when Darren Stevens was removed by Masters for just six and Ten Doeschate moved quickly across the ground to take a difficult caught and bowled and dismiss Alex Blake (six).
Sam Northeast then pushed Kent towards 200 with two big sixes, but Mills would have the last word before the break as he tempted Sam Billings (26) into chopping on.
Essex needed 190 runs to snatch victory and made a poor start to their chase as Stevens dislodged Mark Pettini's stumps for a duck with his third ball.
Tymal Mills claimed three wickets. Picture: GAVIN ELLIS/TGS PHOTO
Unhappy with the situation, Jesse Ryder hit Adam Riley to the ropes three times in a row before Tom Westley repeated the trick against Stevens.
Ryder then blasted a huge six off David Griffiths and moved onto 32 when finding the boundary for the sixth time.
The dangerous New Zealander's innings came to an end, however, when he was run out by Riley and Westley soon followed him to the pavilion after being stumped for 27 by Billings off a wide from Stevens.
After 10 overs Essex needed 103 more runs off 60 balls to triumph and having put on 37 it was key for Ten Doeschate and Bopara to preserve their partnership.
Both men punished Kent for dropping catches - James Tredwell and Doug Bollinger the guilty men - by hitting sixes and Bopara's second maximum of the evening saw the Eagles reach the 100 mark in the 11th over.
The odds swung firmly in Essex's favour when Bopara passed 50 with a four off Griffiths and the 100 partnership came up off 61 balls when the England man found the ropes from the next delivery.
Ten Doeschate could not follow his team-mate into the fifties, departing for an impressive 47 from 29 balls thanks to Griffiths.
After Bopara scored 10 in the 18th over Essex needed only 12 runs off the final 12 balls to seal victory and the honour fell to the man himself with a punch over the top for his eighth four, to go with three sixes.