Kent 369 (Denly 119) and 298 for 2 dec (Bell-Drummond 90, Dickson 74, Denly 71*) beat Sussex 164 (Stevens 5-40) and 356 (van Zyl 78, Philander 73*, Burgess 68, Harris 4-103) by 147 runs
The 55th match to have been played between these teams on this ground took its place in one of county cricket's most treasured lineages at precisely 2.40 pm with the raised index finger of Steve Gale and the slow departure of Danny Briggs, who may have felt that the ball had struck his pad a little high, a little outside leg or both. What no one doubted was the justice of the overall outcome. Kent's superiority, which had been evident since Saturday lunchtime when Darren Stevens ripped the vitals out of Sussex's first innings, was confirmed in the only way that really matters to professional cricketers: Sam Northeast's team gained the points which enabled them to keep pace with Nottinghamshire and Worcestershire at the top of the Division Two table.
Yet there were times on this final day when we toyed with the thought that this might be one of those games when the whole current of a contest is mysteriously reversed. As though seized with a sudden reluctance to leave Tunbridge Wells - and who would not be? - Sussex's batsmen made Kent work hard for their two wickets on the fourth morning at the Nevill Ground. Resuming on 182 for 6, the visitors lost David Wiese and Michael Burgess in the first session but Wiese made 34 before was bowled by a ball that kept a little low from James Harris, and Burgess revealed an admirable temperament in batting 252 minutes for 68, his second fifty of the season. That innings ended when he was leg before to Matt Coles but by then Vernon Philander had played himself in and was finding the gaps in Northeast's attacking fields.
Sussex had added 81 runs to their overnight total when that eighth wicket fell and the reverse did nothing to blunt the batsmen's attacking instincts. Twice in an over Coles tested Jofra Archer with bouncers; on both occasions he was deposited into the white bucket seats thirty yards to the left of the Bluemantle Stand. Archer and Philander added 49 runs in 25 minutes before lunch and we wondered if all this was something more than a game's frolicsome last knockings. Yet the irony was that it had occurred in atmospheric conditions which favoured seam bowlers. The atmosphere was heavy and steamier than at any stage in the match. Perhaps it recalled the early hours of the morning when a super-storm crashed around the town like a keyless drunk trying to get into his hotel room.
There was even a little rain during the luncheon interval and the resumption was delayed by 20 minutes. But Archer profited little from his extended rest. Instead, he played across the line to the second ball of the afternoon session and was leg before to Harris for 27. Briggs batted capably with Philander, who reached his fifty off 67 balls and celebrated the moment by taking fours off three consecutive balls from Harris. But it was the Middlesex loanee who had the last word and it will be Kent's cricketers who move on to their next game, at home to Durham in ten days' time, in better heart.
Kent have shown themselves to be a team with a mission over the past four days; Sussex have sometimes looked a collection of talented individuals in need of a common purpose. It rather recalled their distant days of endearing fallibility when they could beat the champions only to come a cropper against a county without a win all season. Their weaknesses were most in evidence with the bat in their first innings and with the ball in Kent's second: on Saturday evening Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sean Dickson did more or less as they wished.
Tunbridge Wells, meanwhile, has revealed itself, once again, to be one of the great venues in the English game. The echoes of this dreamland will be with some of us throughout the next four months, even when we are on more famous grounds. The Nevill Ground's traditions are revered but none of them are as important as the next first-class game to be played at this place.
"That summer ground, so rhododendron-proud, / Where Woolley (they said), in one tremendous basting, / Lifted his longest six - over the crowd / Into a coal truck rumbling down to Hastings." So wrote John Hall in his poem "A Bouquet for Tunbridge Wells". The bouquets were different this May. They were delivered by Joe Denly, Stevens and Bell-Drummond. Echoes of dreamland, indeed.