Kent win keeps promotion race open
Kent 261 (Jones 80) and 342 for 8 dec (Northeast 165, Nash 62) beat Derbyshire 200 (Madsen 64, Davies 5-27) and 181 (Khawaja 53, Stevens 4-37) by 222 runs
It turned out to be much ado about nothing so far as James Tredwell was concerned - nothing for 34 from 33 overs, to be precise. But Kent, with Darren Stevens working his medium-paced magic, still earned the vital victory their efforts deserved to set up a thrilling final week in Division Two of the Championship.
Although Hampshire retain the faintest of mathematical chances, this is now a three-horse race for two promotion spots - and Kent, who finished second from bottom 12 months ago, have closed the gap on leaders Derbyshire to six points, while second-placed Yorkshire are only five ahead of them.
They had to work extremely hard, though, to seal the deal on Friday - eventually crossing the winning line with 12.4 overs, or 43 minutes, to spare. Stevens, who continually asks questions which batsmen do not like, was not used before lunch but he captured four of the last seven wickets.
"Stevo has been brilliant in these last couple of games," Kent captain Rob Key said of the allrounder who took a five-for against Leicestershire a week ago. "He got his wickets with some serious balls."
The only good news for Derbyshire was Hampshire's simultaneous defeat by Essex, meaning that their opponents next week will have next to nothing to play for in terms of promotion.
Losing captain Wayne Madsen on Thursday evening was a serious blow to Derbyshire because he has shown on more than one occasion this season that he can bat long and big in difficult circumstances. Even so, the visitors made a promising start to the final morning with Paul Borrington and Usman Khawaja doing their best for 75 minutes to back up the defiant words of head coach, Karl Krikken, with some determined defence.
Krikken had said that Derbyshire would "fight to get a positive result", after complaining bitterly about Tredwell's introduction to the match after the ECB had indicated he would not be available if he played in Wednesday's final ODI against South Africa.
In fact, Derbyshire never threatened to crumble to Tredwell. But the England spinner gave them nothing (he bowled 12 overs for 17 overs before lunch) whereas 20-year-old Adam Riley, who Tredwell replaced, might not have been able to maintain the pressure. To that extent, his introduction to the game did have a bearing.
Wickets were what Kent required, however, and it was Matt Coles - picked for the England Lions this summer - who did the trick with two wickets in 17 balls. Tall, strong and bowling with every ounce of effort he could muster, Coles may have been a little fortunate to remove Borrington lbw with height the issue. A couple of overs later, however, he had Wes Durston leg-before, the batsman having shuffled across his stumps, and almost did for Dan Redfern, who edged thick and fast to gully where Sam Northeast could only parry a head-high chance.
Then Stevens took over the role of match-winner. He removed Khawaja lbw with one that cut back, found the outside edge of Redfern's bat, had Tony Palladino taken in the slips off an angled bat and produced a bail-trimmer to remove Tim Groenewald. Derbyshire continued to fight, but it was a battle they seemed destined to lose from the moment Mark Davies brushed David Wainwright's off stump with the final ball before tea, thereby breaking a stand with Tom Poynton that took up 20 overs.
"That was a massive wicket for us," said Key. "This morning, I thought it would be over a lot earlier than it was. But Derbyshire fought really well and they were very hard to prise out. We had to force every dismissal and it was bloody hard work.
"So now it is a three-horse race for promotion and I would say it is even money on everyone. After the last couple of years it is brilliant to be going into the final game with everything to play for."
Derbyshire can say precisely the same. But, having led the table virtually all season, they now find themselves under real pressure to confirm a first ever Championship promotion.