Evergreen Stevens scuppers Surrey
Kent 408 (Northeast 91, Billings 82*, Meaker 4-106) and 292 (Key 59, Billings 57*, Meaker 7-90) beat Surrey 398 (Wilson 84, Meaker 53, Stevens 4-110) and 213 (Dilshan 68, Stevens 5-68) by 239 runs
There is no such thing as a bad win but, boy, didn't Kent deserve to celebrate this victory long and hard? Put in on the first morning and put under pressure at various stages throughout a riveting contest, they emerged triumphant with 22.1 overs to spare.
A month ago, when Rob Key's team lost to Glamorgan by an innings they looked unlikely to merit even an also-rans mention in the Division Two promotion race. But now, following this third victory on the spin, it would be foolish to discount them. Although still fifth in the table, Kent are only 21 points behind long-time promotion favourites Hampshire with a game in hand - and they have to play that county twice in the final few weeks of the season.
For Surrey, the fact they have moved up to second place - now two points ahead of Hampshire, having played a match more - will be precious little consolation. On several occasions over the last four days they fancied their chances of getting the job done at Woodbridge Road but, instead, went under on the final afternoon, having played some aggressive cricket in pursuit of an appetising target of 303 in 76 overs.
The hosts had not lost in the championship since Kent beat them at Canterbury in early May, and while this reverse by no means ends their challenge it is a nasty kick in the teeth. Several Surrey players will feel hard done by, but no-one more so than Stuart Meaker, who finished with match figures of 11 for 196 plus a first innings half-century.
A pitch of pace, carry and some up and (occasionally) down bounce was right up Meaker's street. And, for Kent, Mitch Claydon did a good job of trying to impersonate Surrey's strike weapon. But there is more than one way to skin a cat - and in Darren Stevens Kent had a destroyer of an altogether different type to swing the game decisively their way with his canny medium-pacers.
The 38-year-old all-rounder seldom had the chance to bowl when a Leicestershire player. But, having moved to Kent in 2005, he was allowed to develop his second string to such an extent that he is now a key member of the attack
Stevens has had good seasons with the ball in the past. This one, though, is turning out to be the best of the lot with 43 championship victims already in the bag at just 22 runs apiece. Today, he added five to the collection, at a cost of 68 runs - having seen his first six overs with the new ball go for 40 runs as Surrey tried to crash, bang wallop their way to success.
"We thought there was enough in the pitch for us to win," said Stevens before joining Kent's post-match celebration party on a still sun-drenched outfield. "If you looked at how many plays and misses there had been on the previous three days we thought, with a bit of luck, they would start to nick them and we would be ok."
And nick them they did with nine of Surrey's ten wickets falling to edges that flew to keeper, slips or gully. The end result was that Stevens walked away with match figures of 9 for 178 - and Kent were able to look forward to the rest of the championship season with real optimism. "We are in a strong position now," added Stevens. "We've got some big games to come, including two against Hampshire."
For Surrey, there were no regrets about the way they set about chasing the target, only disappointment at failing to make it and frustration that they had not bowled well enough on the first morning of the match.
Tillakaratne Dilshan, with 68 off 64 balls, had looked their likeliest hero in mid-afternoon but he eventually succumbed to Stevens, going after a wide one, and thereafter it was only a matter of time.
"We needed a bit of luck against the new ball but we lost too many wicket early on," said captain Gary Wilson. "I still thought we were in a position to win but unfortunately we were not quite good enough today."