Essex 313 (Cook 125, Bopara 61) and 206 for 7 dec (Cook 90) beat Kent 182 and 224 (Bell-Drummond 81, Harmer 8-98) by 113 runs
After the previous day's rain, Essex were compelled to bat in the morning session. They didn't hang around for long. In just four overs they added 25 runs to their overnight score, losing Michael Pepper in the process, and then pulled out, setting Kent a not impossible but hugely unlikely 338 in 90 overs on a pitch where scoring has not been easy.
This felt like both a generous declaration, most teams would probably have erred slightly more on the side of caution, and one that acknowledged how tough it was going to be to bowl out this redoubtable Kent side. They may have their limitations, most notably in their seam bowling attack, but they lack nothing in spirit and determination. Only a week ago they had batted through the last day at Beckenham to earn a draw against Surrey, but this felt like a tougher prospect.
In Simon Harmer, Essex possess the perfect weapon on a fourth-day pitch, and he was unleashed on Kent as early as the tenth over after Kent had made a serene start against Jamie Porter and Sam Cook. In his second over he had snaffled Zak Crawley, trapped in front for 18. The pattern was set. Just like the first innings, Harmer would wheel away from the River End while the seamers rotated from the Hayes Close End.
Joe Denly calculated that the best form of defence against Harmer was attack. It turned out to be a less-than-prudent calculation as he was caught at deep midwicket aiming to deposit the ball into the River Can.
When Sean Dickson, who did so much to earn that draw last week, edged the dependable Peter Siddle to Harmer at slip, the visitors had stumbled to 51 for 3 and looked on the verge of subsiding completely. Somehow, amidst much playing and missing, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Heino Kuhn, who was dropped by Tom Westley before scoring, limped to lunch without incurring further losses.
That drop didn't look costly at first, but as Kuhn and Bell-Drummond dug in, even occasionally prospering against attacking fields, heretical thoughts of a possible Kent fightback emerged. Those thoughts would be broken by a less-than-smart bit of thinking from Kuhn. Padding up to Harmer is never a wise move. He generates significant turn, even on the most placid of wickets but, inexplicably, pad up is precisely what Kuhn did. Umpire Robinson had no hesitation in raising the finger.
The next time the Robinson digit was elevated to the skies was more of a surprise. Ollie Robinson appeared to get nothing on a sharply turning off break that cannoned off his knee roll and looped, in a gentle parabola to Ravi Bopara at leg gully. The Essex fielders joined in a moderately concerted appeal. The Kent keeper looked surprised but to his credit made a smart exit. In fairness to the umpire, adjudicating on the flight, trajectory and turn of Harmer must be a near impossible task, such is the action he generates on the ball.
The fightback had been halted in its tracks and Kent went fully into reverse gear when Wiaan Mulder wafted horribly at a wide ball from Sam Cook to give Pepper his sixth catch of the match. All the while Bell-Drummond was quietly playing himself into some kind of form. His highest first-class score of the season before Thursday was 41 against Yorkshire and for the first couple of hours it was easy to see why, but by tea the old fluency and promise was returning. In tandem with Darren Stevens, who himself has looked all at sea this year, Kent took the attack back to Essex, with Stevens hitting the last two balls of the afternoon session for four and six.
Their partnership of 47 in 11.3 overs offered a twist in the tale of this absorbing match. It was a partnership not without incident as Essex were convinced they had both batsmen on numerous occasions, only to be turned down by Robinson, as Harmer was getting the ball to spit and bounce. Harmer would not be denied however, when Stevens clipped the ball into Lawrence's hands at midwicket to put the score at 210 for 7 with 100 minutes left for play.
The game was now up as Harmer ripped through the remaining wickets of Harry Podmore, Matt Milnes and finally, for a stout but ultimately defeated 81, Bell-Drummond. Essex had wrapped up victory by 113 runs with just over an hour to spare. I say Essex. For all the excellent seam bowling on display, it was Harmer's 8 for 98, giving him match figures of 11 for 170, which was the deciding factor, together with Alastair Cook's 215 runs.
Harmer has now bagged 29 victims this season and is the country's leading wicket taker. Not bad for an off-spinner. In April and May. The rest of the country should be afraid of what he may yet achieve this season. Very afraid.