KENT secured their qualification for the Vitality Blast quarter-finals after edging to a four-wicket win over Essex with two balls to spare at Canterbury.

Jack Leaning’s unbeaten 55 helped Kent across the finish line to clinch their fifth qualifying win, guaranteeing at least third place in the South Group and with a points total that cannot be matched by the North Group – meaning they advance at a minimum as one of the two best third-placed finishers.

Needing 168 for victory at a rate of 8.4 an over, the Spitfires lost Zak Crawley in the fourth over when Jack Plom pegged back off stump with his first delivery.

Joe Denly plunder two fours off Plom and then pulled a Sam Cook bouncer over the mid-wicket ropes for Kent’s first six as the hosts reached 46 for one at the end of their powerplay.

Denly tossed away his wicket for 23 by lofting a drive against Aron Nijjar straight to long off before Simon Harmer struck with his fourth ball by having Heino Kuhn caught behind when cutting.

Sam Billings also showed early intent, reverse sweeping for four against Harmer and following that with a straight six.

Daniel Bell-Drummond departed for 25 when his leg-side slog against Plom was caught at cow corner and Plom then had Billings caught behind off the gloves when hooking for 18.

The Spitfires needed 65 off the last six overs and Alex Blake clipped Cook for six and then drove Matt Quinn for four but holed out to deep square for 29 after putting on 67 with Leaning.

With nine needed off the final over, Leaning cut four through extra cover, leaving Grant Stewart to finish it with a six over mid-wicket.

Earlier, Cameron Delport and Tom Westley gave Essex a flying start before the latter clubbed Fred Klassen to Crawley at mid-off to depart for 39.

Imran Qayyum struck with his fifth delivery to have Dan Lawrence well caught, low down at long on by Blake.

Michael Pepper departed unluckily in the next over, run out when backing up at the non-striker’s end to a Delport drive that Grant Stewart finger-tipped on to the stumps.

Billings ran out Delport (28) with a direct hit to the striker’s end and Paul Walter added a brisk 19 before slicing an attempted drive against Matt Milnes to Bell-Drummond, while Harmer (10) holed out to long on to gift Qayyum a second scalp.

Ryan Ten Doeschate’s 32-ball 50 got them back on track but he fell soon after, caught behind chasing a wide one.

In the final over, Nijjar fell in near identical fashion and Klassen then had Cook caught off a miscued drive at short third man as Essex finished on 167 for nine.