After two near misses in their last two Championship games at Canterbury, Kent finally recorded their first red-ball win of the season by eight wickets at Nevil Road.
Set 241 to win by Gloucestershire, they reached their target in comfortable fashion thanks to an unbeaten third wicket stand of 208 between Joe Denly and stand-in skipper Sam Northeast. Denly finished on 117 not out with Northeast unbeaten on 88.
Much of the talk around the county grounds in the last couple of days has been of the plans of the ECB to reduce the number of Championship fixtures to 12 in order to enhance the importance of the T20 competition. In many ways this match has been a good illustration of the arguments for and against the plan.
It encapsulated much of what is best about four day cricket: the balance of advantage ebbed and flowed and not until today’s afternoon session developed was the eventual winner readily apparent; whilst on the other hand a glance around the Nevil Road ground at the sparse crowd confirmed the commercial logic behind the plan.
But for the present, Kent will be delighted that they have got their 2015 Championship season back on track. They will look back on the eighth wicket stand of 119 between Matt Coles and Calum Haggett on the second day which rescued their first innings, as well as today’s partnership between Denly and Northeast, as the periods which won the match. In addition, the Kent pace attack worked hard in both of Gloucestershire’s innings to keep the hosts’ totals below par.
Today Gloucestershire began on 282/9, 240 runs ahead. They needed to garner a few extra valuable runs to make Kent’s target more challenging, but that hope was dashed on the very first ball of the morning as Matt Taylor was caught at square leg off Ivan Thomas, leaving Kent needing 241 to win.
The visitors began their pursuit badly as Daniel Bell-Drummond nicked Craig Miles to Chris Dent at second slip for three. Brendan Nash, who won the game at Cheltenham in 2013 with 199 before he retired ill with heat exhaustion, looked in match-winning form again until he edged to wicket-keeper Gareth Roderick in Liam Norwell’s first over for 25 with the score on 35. Gloucestershire looked buoyant.
Joe Denly then survived a sharp caught-and-bowled chance off Norwell when on 20, but gradually the Kent opener increased in confidence as the morning period progressed. Stand-in skipper Sam Northeast also settled in the face of some hostile and accurate Gloucestershire bowling and at lunch Kent were well on their way to their winning target on 85/2, with Denly on 29 and Northeast on 23.
Any hopes Gloucestershire had of capturing quick wickets to put Kent under pressure gradually disappeared in the afternoon session. Denly and Northeast moved with little trouble towards their win. The bowlers’ hostility of the morning session gradually faded as the Kent total increased and the winning runs were scored at the appointed time for the tea interval in 64.4 overs.
This was Denly’s first century of the season since his return to Kent after three seasons with Middlesex and the 16th of his career. He hit 15 fours and three sixes in his 197 ball innings. Northeast gave him solid assistance: his 88 coming off 146 balls with 14 fours.
Later Northeast told the Kent website: “I’m thrilled for Joe Denly because he had really been striving for that hundred. It was a great team effort and the bowlers, led by Matt Coles, did a brilliant job, particularly on day three when the pitch had flattened out.”
From Gloucestershire’s perspective this game put an end to their two match winning run after wins away to Essex and Lancashire. Head coach Richard Dawson said after the match that he couldn’t fault the hard work of the players and spoke positively of the bowling unit led by the in-form Liam Norwell. He said he was particularly delighted with the bowling before lunch today. However, he might also reflect upon the below-par totals his batsmen posted in both innings: Bristol pitches tend to flatten out as matches progress and asking Kent to chase 241 in the fourth innings was simply not demanding enough.