Azhar's furious assault is decisive for Surrey

Surrey 186-8 Kent 168-9 Surrey win by 18 runs
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The Independent Online

Surrey guaranteed themselves a place in the semi-finals of the Twenty20 Cup after maintaining their 100 per cent record with their fourth successive victory at the top of the Southern Group.

For that they could thank Azhar Mahmood for a fine all-round performance, he scored an unbeaten half-century then weighed in with two wickets.

But it did not look a done deal while Ed Smith was hammering away. It took a direct hit by James Benning, who had earlier in the Kent innings dropped a couple of skiers, to get rid of him. Smith's quick-fire 50 had given Surrey some worrying moments, and, at the death, Matthew Dennington slogged the 17th six, but ultimately Surrey's batsmen had done just too much for the brave men of Kent.

This was much more what the organisers wanted. Plenty of thrills and spills - there were big hits, high skiers - some caught, some not; but not much green grass beyond the boundary, not with around 7,000 disciples gathered in the Canterbury sunshine to witness the gospel according to cricket's marketing men. The new testament of the shortened game really does look like reaching parts of the population other competitions have not remotely approached.

Having run the Australian batsman Greg Blewett out of town, Kent gave Pakistan's latest fast bowling sensation Mohammed Sami a run-out and he did not disappoint. Nor for that matter did Surrey.

They might have been without a clutch of Test players, including Graham Thorpe, Mark Butcher and Alec Stewart, but there were plenty of internationals left, including their own Pakistani talent Azhar Mahmood who certainly made his presence felt. He and Mark Ramprakash had shared in a vital 58-run stand which ensured the hefty Surrey total. Ramprakash reached 50 with the help of three sixes and a similar number of fours.

Azhar's innings was spiked with monster hits - there were five sixes and a couple of fours in his 31-ball thrash. But if Azhar played the most thrilling strokes of the night, the shot of the match had to be the one that Martin Bicknell played which earned him a single and got Azhar to the striker's end for the crucial last five balls of the final over.

In the course of those five balls the Pakistani all-rounder smashed a further 17 runs, which proved to be the difference between the two sides at the end.

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