Surrey 271 and 179 for 6 (Elgar 65, Stevens 4-46) lead Kent 369 (Kuhn 54) by 81 runs
On the day the London Evening Standard reported that the ECB had accepted the name of Oval Invincibles for the Hundred side based at the ground next season, the county associated with the place through its cricketing history looked rather more vincible than they would have wished.
Kent will enter the final day in the stronger position having established a lead of 98 on first innings and, after Surrey battled through the second session for the loss of only a single wicket, made sufficient inroads after tea to feel that a third win of the season is within their grasp. Just as long as the weather holds and their heads remain level.
When bad light halted play with floodlights beaming for the third day in a row, Sam Curran and Rikki Clarke had at least averted the slender possibility of immediate defeat. Surrey will draw some hope from the fact that batting has rarely been simple, and if they can extend the lead to around 150, while taking time out of the game, they may be able to force mistakes. It would help if Gareth Batty recovers from illness to feature.
Next summer, these counties will be together for the new concept. The name is said to have pleased both: Surrey have ground recognition, Kent a strong nod to the county motto of Invicta. This goes back to Norman times and means unconquered, although they seem to have remained so not by defeating William the Conqueror but thanks to a mutual agreement not to fight. Perhaps the Oval Pragmatists would be more appropriate.
A cheeky soul might ask Darren Stevens what he remembers about motte and bailey castles. True, he was born in 1976 rather than 1066, but he looks a year or two older than 43 and the little hair now left is grey, and light grey at that. When Paul Downton, Kent's director of cricket, announced the signing of Matt Milnes last September he talked of "building and developing a seam attack that grows to be the best in the country". But that attack would not be the same without the man who is old enough to be the father of the rest.
As in the first innings, the Kent bowlers kept Surrey under near-constant pressure. They maintained a challenging line to the succession of left-handers. Revealingly, the first four wickets all fell to catches by wicketkeeper Ollie Robinson, albeit that of Rory Burns to a gloved attempt to hook. Before that stroke, Surrey were 9 for 1 overall in what had effectively become a four-session game. At that point, Kent took back the initiative.
Without being spectacular the hour or so before tea was especially engrossing. A blanket of thin cloud blocked the sky, but it felt warm and close, as though a raindrop might herald a storm just as a wicket might easily spark a collapse. Grant Stewart struck Dean Elgar on the forearm, from the other end Ollie Rayner turned the ball past the bat. Yet Elgar and Burns were batting actively, rotating strike and finding gaps.
Elgar nudged and poked and guided, his runs ugly but valuable. Burns, meanwhile, had enjoyed success on the pull from the second ball of the innings when he swatted away Harry Podmore. And so his demise to Milnes came as all the more of a shock. Then, confirming how difficult it has been to begin an innings, Scott Borthwick followed immediately to give Milnes his 39th wicket of the season. His signing from Nottinghamshire has been well and truly vindicated, as they have noticed at Trent Bridge as well as Canterbury.
From then on, it became the Stevens Show. Curran, whose instinct is to counterattack, survived appeals for catches behind in successive overs, the second with particular conviction. It barely mattered when Elgar's stubborn effort ended leg-before on 65 and Jamie Smith quickly fell in similar fashion - not the first and not the last youngster to succumb playing around his front pad with Stevens wobbling the ball late.
His figures currently read 4 for 46, and with a breezy 29 before lunch he could reflect on a day's wage well earned. As it happened, Surrey would have been relatively happy to have claimed the remaining six Kent wickets for 84, keeping the deficit in double figures. The highlight was an athletic diving catch by Mark Stoneman at midwicket to remove Stevens and a high take at first slip by Clarke accounting for Stewart.
Clarke had demonstrated remarkable reflexes for a man close to his 38th birthday, and with three wickets in the session he demonstrated what Stevens later confirmed, that youth does not hold a monopoly on quality cricket. Which is not to say that either man will necessarily be sprinting around the boundary for the Invincibles next year. They are too pragmatic for that.