Kent checked by Meaker magic
Kent 408 and 229 for 6 (Key 59, Nash 51, Meaker 4-67) lead Surrey 398 (Wilson 84, Meaker 53, Stevens 4-110) by 239 runs
Twice during another absorbing day's play at Woodbridge Road, Kent thought they were in a position to dictate terms - and twice they saw their plans ripped apart by an inspired Stuart Meaker, who is relishing every minute of his return to Championship action.
At 316 for 9 early on the third morning, Surrey seemed in grave danger of surrendering a potentially decisive first-innings deficit of around 90 to their fellow promotion hopefuls, only for Meaker to make an excellent half-century at No. 9 while sharing in a situation-changing stand of 82 with Matt Dunn.
But if Meaker's batting was good, his post-tea bowling spell bordered on the brilliant. With Brendan Nash and Rob Key both well set, the 25-year-old quick bent his back still further to remove two half-century makers in the space of eight deliveries. From sitting relatively pretty on 164 for 2, the visitors were suddenly a startled-looking 173 for 4 with uncertainty written all over their faces.
A couple of overs later, Sam Northeast went in search of a distinctly optimistic single after driving Meaker just wide of mid-on and was comfortably run-out following Darren Stevens' understandable decision to send him back. Then, with the total stuck on 176, Stevens looked around in horror to find he had been brilliantly caught low down at second slip as Dunn joined his fast-bowling mate in the wickets column.
It was a terrific passage of play. And while Kent regrouped sufficiently through Sam Billings and Calum Haggett to reach 229 for 6 by the close, they are only 239 ahead going into the final day with all outcomes possible on this fast-scoring ground.
Kent will certainly believe they can get among Surrey's batsmen in the fourth innings, having posed plenty of problems during the second. But whether they can find a bowler to match Meaker is the big question.
This pitch has encouraged the quicks from the very start - offering pace, bounce, carry and movement. Indeed, umpire Rob Bailey mentioned midway through the third day that he had seldom, if ever, seen so many runs scored when the bat was being beaten so regularly. But having a big enough heart to keep pounding away when the wickets are not coming is another vital attribute - and one which Meaker demonstrated throughout this steamy day.
He had missed a total of eight Championship matches - initially through injury and then as a result of selection policy - before being recalled to front-line duty on Sunday. A frustrated tweet a week or two ago indicated that he felt the wait was longer than strictly necessary but a four-wicket haul in the first innings here looked to be an even better response.
Today's runs were a nice bonus but not entirely unexpected because he made a Championship score of 72 as long ago as 2009. Meaker the bowler caught the eye even more, though.
First, he made sure Kent did not get away to a flier by finding a couple of outside edges as Daniel Bell-Drummond tried to lower his bat beneath a lifter and Ben Harmison defended unsuccessfully. It was the later, nine-over spell of 2 for 33 that really rocked Kent, however - Nash snicking an attempted upper cut and Key finding slip after driving at one that left him.
The pace was right up there throughout, so was the aggression and with Meaker consistently hitting the right line and length it was easy to remember why he figured so prominently on England's radar a year or two ago.