At 4.40 pm Kent duly wrapped up the innings and 69 runs win over Gloucestershire at the Brightside Ground, Bristol, which they needed to keep up the pressure on Division Two leaders Essex whom they trail in second place by 23 points.
It was a victory which had been likely since the first day. Needing 312 to make Kent bat again, the hosts were all out for 243 in their second innings. The only resistance came from Hamish Marshall, in his penultimate game at Bristol before retirement at the end of this season. His 118 from 213 balls was an example to the younger batters in the side of the virtues of patient application in a game- saving situation, a skill at which modern players succeed all to rarely.
Gloucestershire resumed this morning on 34/4 in much less bowler-friendly conditions than those they faced last night. Marshall and Phil Mustard, who between them provided the only real resistance in the first innings, proved similarly stubborn as Kent tried all their five seamers in the first hour. The pair doubled the overnight score but Mustard’s patience didn’t last. He drove at Claydon and was caught at short cover. Half the side were out for 69.
Marshall and Jack Taylor went through to lunch without further misadventure, taken on 94/5 with the veteran Kiwi one short of his second 50 of the match, and Taylor on 11. Kent would have hoped for more than one wicket in the session, but thoughts of anything other than a Kent win were some way off.
Marshall went to his 50, from 116 balls, but Taylor was not to remain long as his partner. Burgeoning though his white- ball reputation is, he is not the ideal man to bat out the day. Here he succumbed to the temptation of a short ball from Matt Coles, attempting a hook which he gloved to ‘keeper Sam Billings for 22- Gloucestershire 115/6.
Craig Miles was bowled by a Viljoen low one for 15. At 158/7 the end for Gloucestershire seemed imminent. But Marshall’s determination continued. He reached his third Championship century of the summer, and the 29th of his first- class career, in 162 balls. David Payne didn’t last long, bowled by James Tredwell for 14.
Gloucestershire reached tea at 210/8 with Marshall on 116 and Liam Norwell not out 4. With the new ball due in three overs the end seemed near. It seemed nearer when Marshall’s superb knock ended when Coles trapped him lbw with the new ball for 118, and the end came when Norwell swung at Viljoen and was caught behind for 24.
Once again the Kent bowlers performed with distinction. Man of the match Stevens took 3/44, Viljoen 3/66, giving him match figures of 8/121, and Coles 2/49.
Kent fans will be delighted at the way in which their side bounced back from their Royal London quarter- final defeat against Yorkshire last week. They bowled with spirit and accuracy throughout the match, an effort supported by the big centuries of Billings and Stevens who took the game away from the hosts when Kent batted.
With games at Hove against Sussex and Northamptonshire at Beckenham in the next two weeks, Kent could well go into their last game of the season with a chance of the only promotion place on offer this season. With Essex the visitors to Canterbury it could be a classic.
By contrast the hosts’ reaction to their quarter-final exit from the Natwest Blast T20 has been heavy defeats at Hove last week and in this game, which all but ensures another mid-table finish. Here they were outplayed from the first morning. Marshall apart (and Mustard in the first innings) few emerged with much credit. It was a dispiriting performance from a team which started the season with high hopes of adding to last season’s silverware.
With away games at Derby, Cardiff and Northampton and a home game against Sussex to come Gloucestershire still have the chance to rescue something from what looks now to be a disappointing season. They will need to improve greatly on this tame performance.