Kent close in on victory at Bristol

Kent close in on victory at Bristol

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Kent finished the day at the Brightside Ground Bristol, a day shortened by rain and bad light, with victory in sight. Setting Gloucestershire a target of 312 to make Kent bat again the hosts were on 34/4, trailing Kent my 278 runs, when the gloom which had hovered over Bristol all day finally brought an end to proceedings.

Kent’s stars today were once again Darren Stevens and Sam Billings. Stevens reached 140 today and then plundered the hosts’ top order late on taking 3/11 from 8 overs. Billings hit a career best 171 in helping his side to 533/6 before they declared.

Under grey skies this morning Kent began on their overnight 346/4, 205 ahead, with Stevens on 121 and Billings 86. The milestones soon quickly arrived: 219 for the record fifth wicket stand for Kent against Gloucestershire (beating Ames and Valentine in Folkestone in 1933) and then Billings’s third first-class century, and his first this summer, scored from 128 balls with 18 fours. Then the rain arrived after nine overs with Kent 388/4.

Play resumed after an early lunch, 15 overs having been lost. At last the long Stevens-Billings stand, which had reached 258, was broken when Stevens, at 140, nicked Craig Miles to slip where Klinger held on to a juggling catch. The veteran all rounder’s superb effort came from 161 balls with 21 fours and two sixes and would have helped enormously in his quest for a contract extension at Kent for another year.

Billings passed his previous highest first-class score (131) and reached 150 scored from 190 balls with 27 fours. He was scoring all round the wicket and with Will Gidman, in only his twelfth Championship innings since leaving Bristol two years ago, a sixth wicket partnership prospered. It had reached 91 when Billings was finally out for 171. Looking to press the accelerator he skipped down the pitch to Liam Norwell and hammered a catch to mid-off. At 490/6 Kent were 269 in front and skipper Sam Northeast must have been pondering the bat on/declare before tea conundrum.

Gidman reached his 50 as the Kent total passed 500. It was only his twelfth Championship innings in two years and his first for Kent. Few of his many admirers in this part of the world will have been surprised at the quality of his batting today. Most will feel that the years since he left Bristol have been wasted.

A further rain shower at 3.30, with Kent on 533/6, sent the players in and prompted the expected declaration setting Gloucestershire a target of 312 to make Kent bat again. Gidman was left on 58 and James Tredwell on 22.

The wickets were shared between the home bowlers, the most economical being Payne, Norwell and Matt Taylor. But after a second day morning session, when they had very little luck, it was not an effort the bowling unit will want to remember. Yesterday afternoon in particular there were far too many wayward balls.

Faced with a possible 39 overs to bat tonight Gloucestershire soon lost Dent caught and bowled by the irrepressible Stevens for one. Roderick waved at one from Viljoen and was caught at second slip, Tavare shouldered arms to a Stevens leg cutter and was bowled for no run and Gloucestershire were in complete disarray at 13/3.

Hamish Marshall and Michael Klinger then dug in against Viljoen, Stevens and Gidman in failing light and the moving ball. The umpires decided to call a halt, then appeared to be persuaded by the Kent players to remain in view of the withdrawal of Viljeon from the attack. But on 34 Stevens nipped one away from Klinger, Coles pocketed the slip catch and Gloucestershire were staring at defeat.

The light finally closed in at 5.27 leaving Gloucestershire 34/4 after 16.3 overs with Marshall not out 11 and Mustard on 0.

With leaders Essex winning in three days at Leicester a Kent win tomorrow is crucial if they want to keep up the pressure on the the top side. It is difficult to imagine any other outcome.

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