Jason Roy hit 72 and Laurie Evans 73 as Surrey clinched a Vitality Blast home quarter-final by beating Kent Spitfires by six wickets at the Kia Oval.
Knowing they could lose the game but still qualify as South Group winners by staying ahead of second-placed Kent on net run rate, Surrey captain Rory Burns chose to bowl first so that they would have two run targets when they chased Kent’s 159 for 8.
Their first task was to score 127, and thus guarantee a better net run rate than Kent, and a superb second wicket stand of 135 in 14 overs between Roy and Evans saw them cruise to that initial target in 14.3 overs.
Sam Billings earlier hit six fours in his 50 off 33 balls for Kent, who are also assured of a place in the knock-out stages, while Liam Plunkett was outstanding with the ball for Surrey on a slow, used surface as he took 3 for 19 from four skilful overs.
But the day belonged to Roy and Evans who, by the time their partnership reached three figures, were both batting majestically.
Roy, understandably given his recent battles with fitness and form, took a while to get going but a reverse slap for four off Fred Klaassen in the last over of the powerplay – plus further fours thrashed through the covers later in the same over – provided the England one-day opener with a surge of confidence that he then took into the rest of his innings.
Evans, much enjoying his return to Surrey after transferring from Sussex last month, was straight into his work after Joe Denly’s leg spin had lured Will Jacks into hitting straight to long off on 4 in the third over. All Kent’s bowlers were dispatched with apparent ease as he raced to his half-century in 34 balls – completing the fifty with a six swung over wide mid-wicket off Denly.
There were also massive sixes over extra cover off both Matt Milnes and Grant Stewart before Evans, who also struck nine fours, played on to his stumps with just 12 more runs needed for victory.
Stewart then had Burns caught behind next ball for 0 and Roy was bowled swinging at Milnes after facing 52 balls and hitting 11 fours besides a huge six into the new Peter May Stand construction site off left-arm spinner Imran Qayyum.
Jamie Smith and Rikki Clarke saw Surrey home with eight balls to spare, veteran all-rounder Clarke sealing a seventh successive win by thumping Stewart to the mid-wicket ropes.
Kent’s innings was once again launched in solid fashion by Zak Crawley and Daniel Bell-Drummond, who came into the game averaging 50 for their first wicket partnerships in this year’s competition and took 48 from the initial powerplay.
Ten runs came from Reece Topley’s opening over, with both batsmen striking lovely offside boundaries and Bell-Drummond provided further early impetus by taking fours off the first four balls of Matt Dunn’s second powerplay over – two over and through the cover ring, plus a superb straight drive and a more agricultural heave wide of long on.
When he had reached 37, however, from 27 balls, Bell-Drummond sliced the first ball of the eighth over to short third man as Moriarty broke the opening partnership at 56. Crawley then followed in the next over, deceived on 21 by Plunkett’s sixth ball and skying to cover.
Billings and Denly accelerated in high-class style, adding 62 in six overs for the third wicket as Denly hit both Moriarty and Clarke for sweetly-struck sixes and Billings – badly dropped by Evans at long off on 34 when he mishit a Jacks full toss – using his feet brilliantly to mix impish deflections with some powerful strokes on both sides of the wicket.
But when Denly reached to edge a ball from Topley aimed wide of his off stump at the start of the 16th over to go for a 21-ball 29, keeper Smith pulling off an excellent diving low catch, the Kent innings lost its way. Just 32 runs came from the last five overs, with five more wickets going down as only Billings made any impression.
Alex Blake, on 1, lofted Plunkett to long off and Jack Leaning picked out deep cover off Dunn, who quickly followed up by also removing Heino Kuhn for a first-ball duck, leg-before to a well-disguised slower ball.
Billings skied Plunkett to cover in the penultimate over and Milnes was run out for 3 by Smith from the last ball as Stewart played and missed at the last three balls from Topley.