Southampton, England:Middlesex earned a shot at cricket's riches when it survived a stirring run chase by Kent to win England's Twenty20 title with a final-ball, three-run win over the defending champion on Saturday.
With a spot in this year's lucrative Stanford Twenty20 tournament on offer to the winner, Kent looked like it was set to overhaul Middlesex's 187-6, the highest final score in the tournament's six-year history, after a badly directed throw allowed Justin Kemp to run for four runs with just three balls left.
But the match swung back to Middlesex as Kemp hit just two more runs and faced a dot ball to leave his team on 184-4 with one delivery remaining. Kemp went for the boundary but bowler Tyron Henderson - who had earlier hit 44 off 33 balls - gathered the ball and ran him out for 49.
The dramatic finish at Southampton's Rose Bowl sealed what is likely to be the most lucrative ever win in English cricket.
Middlesex was already assured of a place in September's inaugural Champions League, which carries a prize of 1 million pounds (US$2 million; euro1.3 million), but victory also earned it a chance to take on Trinidad and Tobago in the Stanford Twenty20 in Antigua.
"It's the first cup I've ever won," said Owais Shah, who hit 75 from 35 balls after his team had won the toss. "It's the best feeling in the world."
But Shah may not even be playing for Middlesex in the Caribbean if England picks him for the six-match series, which will culminate in a winner-take-all, US$20 million (euro12.7 million) game between England and the Stanford Super Stars on Nov. 1.
"I just want to go there and play well," Shah said. "Whoever I play for doesn't matter."
Shah hit five sixes and six fours, while Henderson took his batting figures for the day to 103 off 44 following a crucial knock in a semifinal win over Durham.
But it had been Kent who drew first blood in the final.
Having got the umpires to switch the ball, Yasir Arafat, whose tight bowling late on helped Kent to a 14-run win over Essex in Saturday's first semifinal, swung the replacement between Billy Godleman's bat and pad to remove his off stump - dismissing him for just 1.
That brought Henderson in and, after being dropped by Azhar Mahmood while on 9, he carried on in the same manner that brought him 59 off 21 balls against Durham.
But Joyce was caught behind by Geraint Jones for 23 before Ryan McLaren, who took a hat trick in last season's final win over Gloucestershire, switched ends to claim the crucial wicket of Henderson - luring him into giving Robert Key a catch at midwicket.
That made it 83-3 but the response was instant and brutal, with three straight sixes from Shah helping Middlesex take 21 runs off James Tredwell in the next over.
Shah sped to his sixth Twenty20 half century off just 25 balls and, when he was eventually bowled by McLaren in the 18th over, he was given an ovation by all sections of a crowd enjoying the last of the day's summer sunshine.
Eoin Morgan and Shaun Udal departed in the next two overs as Middlesex slowed. Even so, it went well past the previous best for a final - 177-2 by Leicestershire two years ago.
Kent captain Key survived a stumping appeal early on as he set about attacking the total, leading his team to 41 without loss from its first four overs - 12 ahead of Middlesex at the same stage.
Middlesex introduced spin in the seventh over to stem the flow of runs and Murali Karthik got rid of Key in his second over, caught behind for 52 off 30 balls. With the floodlights on, Udal then tempted Joe Denly into a swipe into the deep, where he was caught by Godleman for 31.
Arafat was then run out off a no ball from a direct hit by Joyce to make it 96-3, before Stevens and Kemp both had lucky escapes. Stevens survived when the umpire could not see a catch by the wicketkeeper to give it out, and Kemp was dropped by Joyce while on 24.
That appeared to have tilted the balance toward Kent, but three tighter final overs, which included Joyce catching Stevens off Dirk Nannes for 33 and Henderson's quick thinking, settled things the other way.
"We really worked hard to get it down," Kemp said. "But Hendo kept his nerve and bowled very good deliveries.
"It's just heartbreaking."
But while Kent has the possible consolation of a place in the Champions League - if tournament officials back down and let it play even though it has two players affiliated with the Indian Premier League - Durham and Essex miss out on the riches on offer.
Essex appeared to be cruising as it chased down Kent's 173-7, but a pair of late run outs swung the match and Essex stuttered to only 159-8.
Durham was never even in contention against Middlesex despite a lineup containing Steve Harmison, Paul Collingwood and Shaun Pollock. It labored to 138-6 and lost by eight wickets with 18 balls remaining.
The losing players had to vacate the dressing room so quickly they couldn't even stay to watch the final.