Roy mixes substance and style to secure victory
Surrey 292 (Stevens 4-58, Coles 4-81) and 196 for 7 (Roy 60*, Stevens 3-29) beat Kent 282 (Key 89, Northeast 73) and 204 (Denly 66, Ansari 4-58, Batty 3-40) by three wickets
Twenty20 cricket has allowed Jason Roy to short-circuit the traditional route to international cricket. Anointed Kevin Pietersen's heir, most vocally by Pietersen himself, Roy's belligerent hitting has become a definitive feature of the Friday night T20 thrills at The Oval.
Five years ago, Roy announced himself with a startling T20 century at Beckenham. On his return to the ground, he proved once again that he demands a bigger stage for his talent than T20 alone. With a nonchalant flick to midwicket that could not help but evoke the Pietersen flamingo, Roy secured Surrey a three-wicket win.
It was the latest in the growing body of evidence to suggest that Roy, still only 24, has quietly developed into a formidable first-class cricketer. It is only two years since his first-class season comprised 49 runs at 8.16 apiece, and copious frustration in second-team cricket. His record since - 1449 runs at 51.75 - shows a man finding first-class fulfillment.
The transformation has been driven not by diverging from his T20 ebullience, but staying truer to it. So when Gary Wilson was the seventh Surrey batsman dismissed with 19 runs still needed, Roy's response was to reverse sweep his next delivery. The next was bludgeoned through the covers for four to bring up a 41-ball half-century.
How Surrey needed it. Remarkably, no other Surrey batsman reached 50 in the match. While the wicket was on the slow side, there was nothing devilish about the pitch at Beckenham, enjoying its first Championship game for six years. Gareth Batty put it best when he said that both sides had been guilty of "less than strong" dismissals. Wilson and Steven Davies both fell to loose drives on the final day, though Davies had fused his usual panache with grit in a critical 54-run partnership with Roy for the sixth wicket.
Kent could certainly reflect on some shoddy dismissals of their own but their final-day bowling performance, even in sumptuous weather that provided the best batting conditions of the match, was brimming with tenacity and verve. They seemed to benefit from the combination of Rob Key's nous and Sam Northeast's vitality. While Key remains the club captain, he has relinquished matchday duties to Northeast in the last month. The two fielded at mid-off and mid-on, plotting after nearly every ball. And they almost had an unlikely heist to celebrate.
As is par for the course against Surrey, Darren Stevens began the day immaculately with his wicket-to-wicket seam bowling. A pair of early scalps - Rory Burns, whose backfoot defensive could only roll on to the stumps; and nightwatchman Matt Dunn, who skied tamely to mid-on - took his career tally against them to 35 wickets. No other county has been more generous to him.
Matt Coles, faster, more muscular and more aggressive, has very different qualities. The delivery to dismiss Kumar Sangakkara, lbw to a yorker and seeming a little beaten by extra pace, highlighted his talent. When Ivan Thomas claimed Dominic Sibley, flashing to slip, Surrey were 108 for 5 and fearing a repeat of their final-day capitulation against Kent last year.
With the pitch displaying signs of low turn, and Zafar Ansari and Batty sharing seven wickets the previous day, Kent turned expectantly to Adam Riley, who had been touted for an England call-up last year. But he bowled too short, too often, offering neither great wicket-taking threat nor control.
So it fell to Coles to try and engineer a victory. A ferocious late burst accounted for Wilson, and Roy survived a fierce lbw shout with ten runs still needed. But a couple of balls later Roy flayed Coles through mid-on, flicking the ball as if playing a topspin forehand. If he was flashy at first, Roy had played the game's decisive innings - and given Kent good reason to fear a repeat of that T20 century when the two sides meet on Friday night in the shortest format.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts