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Kent pull off remarkable victory
Kent pull off remarkable victory

Hampshire’s dream of winning the LV= Insurance County Championship title for the first time in 49 years was ended by a 77-run defeat to Kent.

Joe Weatherley, James Vince and James Fuller – 56, 73 and 78 not out respectively – had given the south coast county hope of an unlikely chase of 378 runs.

But Hampshire’s hopes of replicating the 1961 and 1973’s champions were dashed to give Surrey the pennant for the second time in five seasons – with Nathan Gilchrist taking four for 60, including the winning wicket as Hampshire only reached 300.

It was Hampshire’s third defeat of the season, and Kent’s third victory.

For Kent, their battle for survival in Division One was given a huge boost. To go with the 19 points they took from the victory, closest rivals Warwickshire suffered a shock defeat to rock-bottom Gloucestershire to give Kent a 14-point buffer heading into the final round – where they face Somerset at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence.

Hampshire’s hopes of winning the game had been trounced after they had been bowled out for 57 – in doing so giving up a 108-run first-innings deficit – and were further diminished when they had lost four wickets in their pursuit of 378 on the second evening.

Joe Weatherley had been the shining light of that period with his first score above 25 since April. He had ended the day on 54, having left and defended well, while also finding ways to score.

The morning only brought two runs in a six-over stay before a full Nathan Gilchrist delivery thudded into his shin. Gilchrist’s following over saw the end of the unbalanced Ben Brown, who clipped a similarly full ball to square leg.

Conor McKerr had been sent on loan from Surrey for this fixture, but hadn’t personally helped his parent county with one and a duck with the bat, and no chance to bowl in the first innings. His celebration was perhaps the loudest of the day when he pinned Aneurin Donald in front.

Vince wasn’t allowing Kent to ease to victory though, as he demonstrated his trademarked mix of dogged determinism to win the game for his team and beautiful shot-making. His first three scoring shots were variations on a cover drive, including the first ball of the day.

He moved to his sixth half-century of the season off 81 balls with a dabbed three down to third, to take the required runs down to 169 runs at lunch.

But only 27 more runs were knocked off before a turning half-tracker from Jack Leaning lit up Vince’s eyes, and his pull shot fell straight into Tawanda Muyeye’s grasp on the deep midwicket boundary.

It ended a 90-run stand with Fuller which had almost made Hampshire surprise favourites. Now things looked terminal.

Kyle Abbott was undone by bounce out of the footholds by Leaning to loop to first slip. And despite Fuller racing past a 74 ball fifty and biffing some late runs, Mohammad Abbas had his off stump knocked over by Gilchrist.

The defeat is Hampshire’s first at home in the Championship since losing to Somerset last May – a run of 10 victories – and just their second since the start of the 2019 season.

Hampshire captain James Vince: “There is massive disappointment in the dressing room. I don’t think it’ll reflect too much on the overall season but from this game obviously that session on the first day we were bowled out in 18 overs is the difference in the end.

“There was still a lot of belief in the group that we could fight our way back into the game but fair play to Kent they managed to keep us away from them. It was always going to be hard work but we felt we had a chance of doing something special.

“Whenever we have been tested throughout the season we have always had answers as a group. Today we couldn’t get over the line but I am proud of the efforts the boys have put in throughout the season.

“We know Surrey have played cricket all season and we have found ways to keep in touch with them but losing this game has ended our chances of winning the title.

“Realistically we needed to get through the first hour without losing wickets and unfortunately we lost three early on. I had a good partnership going with Foz and then got out to probably the worst ball of the day.”

Kent head coach Matt Walker: “We are extremely proud, that is the feeling that is emanating around the dressing from everybody. There is a sense of pride about that and winning a four day match like that is the best feeling.

“It has been a good team performance. There has been individual performances in most games but everybody played a part in this game. In a game like that you need everyone to come to the party. 

“From the situation we were in at 32 for five to win that match is a great effort. The innings from Ben Compton was enormous in the context of the game and then the response from the guys with the ball was fantastic. The performance from Jack after that was truly special.

“Whenever James Vince is at the crease you are worried he could do something special. He was the wicket we were desperate for and then when that happen we felt a big step closer to the win. You never know until it is over but you felt once that wicket happened the ship had started to sink.

“We had to win. We came here with seven players out, so taking all that in consideration it is a hell of a win against a side pushing for the title. This game and the last game are really big games and we’ve crossed this one off with a win which has given us a chance. We’re going to need a similar performance next week.”