Adams talks of Division Two 'stigma'
Kent 435 (Key 126, Nash 126) and 54 for 2 beat Surrey 285 (Roy 60, Riley 4-77) and 203 (Riley 5-78) by eight wickets
It is not difficult to find a hard-luck tale on the county circuit but Kent have looked a little unloved in recent times. Beset by financial difficulties, they have spent five of the last six years in Division Two, having been the last of the 18 counties to experience life in the second tier. Despite a playing squad that bears comparison with most of their rivals, they began this season with a defeat and a loss to sit bottom of the table.
A first win may not mean all is suddenly rosy in the garden of England but, as Rob Key and his players enjoyed a barbecue on the dressing room balcony after comprehensively outplaying Surrey, it was tempting to suggest a renewed sense of optimism had settled on the St Lawrence Ground. Even in a competition where games are stretched out over four days, perspectives can alter quickly.
Jimmy Adams, the former West Indies international who has been Kent's coach for the past two years, admitted there was a "stigma" attached to being a Division Two side. Last season's seventh-place finish was a disappointment but a first maximum-points win since 2011 is a good place to start out in search of "the promised land" of Division One.
"As a club, we have to keep aiming for promotion," Adams said. "We want to win as many games as we can, across all the formats. Coming in as an outsider two years ago, I feel there is a stigma attached to Division One vs Division Two and for the players we have, I wish them Division One cricket. If we're not there yet, then let's work towards it, let's have that as a goal that sooner rather than later we can take a group of players into Division One.
"I really believe we have the ability. I do know that it takes time to build a team, especially to get performances that are sustainable but, like everybody connected to Kent, we want it to happen yesterday, rather than tomorrow or the day after, that's just human nature. But it is a big focus for us: that we keep working towards that goal. Whether we'll live to see the promised land, I don't know but we have to keep that as a target."
Having lost to Worcestershire, the surprise Division Two pacesetters, and drawn with Leicestershire, this was an important game for Kent to win. Their decisive 150-run first-innings advantage was based around centuries for Rob Key, who has resumed the captaincy this year, and Brendan Nash, while nine wickets for 22-year-old offspinner Adam Riley helped ensure Surrey never got close to parity.
After a difficult season under James Tredwell's captaincy in 2013, Adams had plenty of praise for Key's contribution to an impressive all-round performance. "I think he's one of the most experienced leaders in the English first-class game and as a coach it takes a lot of pressure off you," he said. "To have your leader scoring runs means that he's under less pressure, he has fewer things to focus on and I've learned the hard way you can't put a price on that over the course of a long county season."
Kent wrapped up victory either side of a 50-minute delay for rain. Jade Dernbach gave a decent King Louie impression for half an hour before swinging once too often at Riley to be stumped, with Surrey's lead a meagre 53. Only one ball was bowled before a heavy shower forced the players off and two quick wickets fell on the resumption but Daniel Bell-Drummond and Nash saw Kent home without further alarm.
Riley has now twice taken nine-wicket hauls this season - one for Loughborough MCCU against Sussex - to give him 23 wickets at 20.00 and an ever-burgeoning reputation. Only Steven Finn and Somerset's Lewis Gregory have taken more, which is quite something for a finger spinner in England after just a month of the first-class season. Riley has capitalised on Tredwell's limited-overs incumbency with England but it may not be long before there are international murmurings about the supposed understudy.
Key highlighted Riley's economy, alongside his wicket-taking threat, as a key element of victory, allowing Kent to rotate their two main seamers, Doug Bollinger and Mitch Claydon, at the other end for the majority of Surrey's second innings.
"You can't quite understand as a captain how nice it is to have a bowler that you can plonk on for twenty-plus overs," he said. "In the first innings he was there just to give us control - he did that plus he took wickets. Then in the second innings he really came into his own on a pitch that was starting to turn a little bit, but was by no means a Bunsen. Not only the wickets but the job he did for us, you can't speak enough about it because that was absolutely crucial. To go at two an over in this day and age is a serious effort."
Surrey are a club that could certainly do with an arm around the shoulder at the moment, their fourth game without a win increasing the sense that they will not be in the promotion equation this season, for all the leadership experience of Graeme Smith and Graham Ford.
Ford admitted his young side had been outplayed but said the players needed learned quickly from their mistakes. "There are little things we can be positive about," he said. "The important thing is that we start to grow those things now. There are some pleasing signs. I'm not sure how long it will take but we really need to start putting together long periods of good performances."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick