For the Essex fans strolling in on a bright Chelmsford morning, concerns that their side might struggle to complete the 127 runs required to win were understandable. Thirty-three wickets had fallen in the two previous days, and when 17-year-old Dan Lawrence departed eight balls in to play their fears looked validated.
But they needn’t worry as captain James Foster’s diligent unbeaten 80, punctuated with searing drives and cuts to the boundary, took them to victory nine balls after lunch.
The pace with which the game ended, Essex beginning the afternoon session needing 23 runs, was in stark contrast to the day’s humble dot-filled start. It took 22 balls before they added to their overnight total of 66, when Foster steered a delivery to third man for four.
And runs continued to be hard to come by as the pitch benefitted seam bowling. Yet Kent will lament the fact that nightwatchman Jamie Porter was not tested sufficiently and allowed to face 59 balls on Day Three. Too many deliveries were pitched wide of the stumps, and when he did go after one, was dropped in the slips by Matt Coles.
Coles was the man to eventually end Porter’s defiance. It was a most unflattering finish to what had been an impressive innings, ducking into a short delivery that bounced back off the pitch and, unable to kick it away in time, dislodged both bails.
While he may not have reduced the chase by much, ending on 14 and adding just one in the half-century partnership with Foster before a late surge, Porter’s stubbornness left Kent frustrated. His battling qualities underlined by a standing ovation from the Essex faithful.
Foster described Porter post-game as possessing ‘big balls’ for the determination shown, best demonstrated by the 42 deliveries soaked up since the start of play before producing a scoring shot. But if Porter’s are big, Foster’s must be gigantic.
Although mentioned briefly last year as potentially getting an international recall, with Matt Prior suffering back problems and understudy Jos Buttler lacking red ball cricket, no such call-up was received. He instead spent the summer piling on his highest first-class runs total in five years, finishing the season as Essex’s top-scorer. Early signs are he might better it in 2015.
Foster chose a patient, methodical approach, accumulating runs at a steady pace and trusting lower-order partner Porter, to put Essex in the ascendancy. By the time Porter trudged off, 61 runs were all they desired with five wickets in hand. It didn’t take long for the Foster and Jesse Ryder combination to move the game beyond Kent. Having spent 21 overs to reach that point, only another 10 were used to complete the result, lunch delaying the inevitable outcome until 13:51.
Foster struck Mitchel Claydon’s first ball after the break for two then pulled the next over midwicket for six. An off drive for four followed and the over concluded by another four at backward point. This was Ryder’s type of game and when he heaved Ivan Thomas into the pavilion for six the scores were tied. Two balls later and Ryder mistimed a lurching hit through midwicket for four to secure Essex a hard-earned victory.
You have to go back almost 20 years for the last time Essex won six Championship matches in a row, but following on from last year’s end of season form that saw them to within eight points of Division One cricket, they produced an result here that could be the kick start 2015’s promotion charge needs.