Stevens bowls Kent to verge of victory
Stevens bowls Kent to verge of victory

Veteran medium-pacer Darren Stevens put on a swing-bowling masterclass at the Kia Oval to help Kent take command of their Specsavers County Championship clash with Surrey.

The 43-year-old all-rounder – who is closing in on his 300th first-class appearance – bagged season’s-best figures of four for 46 to reduce the hosts to 179 for six in their second innings when bad light stopped play on the third day with Surrey only 81 runs ahead overall.

Responding to Kent’s 369 all out, Surrey had wiped out the 98-run first-innings deficit and had edged into a nine-run lead for the loss of only one wicket before Stevens and Matt Milnes combined to turn the home innings on its head.

Surrey’s sole casualty of the mid-session, Mark Stoneman, gifted Stevens his first scalp with an injudicious back-foot force that took the edge through to Kent’s tidy, young gloveman Ollie Robinson.

Dean Elgar, who boasts 56 Test caps for the Proteas, and Surrey captain Rory Burns came together to post 83 for the second wicket, but it was never plain sailing. Elgar took a fierce blow on the gloves from a Grant Stewart lifter, while Burns rarely looked at his fluent best, yet the Surrey pair reached 90 for one at tea.

A change of ball, after one delivery of the evening session, seemingly gave Kent’s attack an unexpected boost allowing Matt Milnes to take two wickets in as many deliveries after switching to the Vauxhall End.

With Surrey’s noses barely ahead Milnes, the former Nottinghamshire seamer, had Burns caught behind off the gloves from a slippery bouncer, then Scott Borthwick, feeling just outside off stump, was caught behind for a golden duck.

Elgar posted his second half-century of the game from 106 balls and with eight fours but, with Surrey’s lead on 26, Stevens struck to remove Ben Foakes for seven. Pushing defensively at an away-swinger Foakes feathered a fourth catch to Robinson.

The floodlights were turned on soon after 5pm but batting got no easier. Sam Curran survived a couple of caught behind shouts against Stevens, who then swung one back in to snare Elgar leg before after a three-hour stay for 65.

In his next over, Stevens nipped one back off the seam to trap Jamie Smith lbw before taking a well-earned rest.

He was replaced at The Pavilion End by Harry Podmore who had a huge leg before appeal against Rikki Clarke turned down before the umpires took the sides off for bad light.

At the start of the day Kent, resuming on their second-day score of 284 for four and a narrow lead of 14 runs, Kent proceeded to lose their last six wickets inside 25 overs as Curran and Clarke made the most of early, overcast conditions.

Kent’s interim skipper Heino Kuhn added only four to his overnight score when he chased Curran’s wider, slower ball to miscue a simple catch to Mark Stoneman at extra cover.

In his next over Curran had Grant Stewart well held, shoulder-high at slip by Clarke, for a second-ball duck when aiming an ambitious back-foot force. It was 21-year-old Curran’s 150th first-class wicket.

Stevens and Robinson posted a half-century stand in 12 overs to take Kent to their fourth batting bonus point but Robinson needlessly worked across a straight one from Clarke to be given leg before.

Stevens attempted counter-attack soon backfired when his leg-side clip off Elgar was well held at mid-wicket by a diving Stoneman, then, two balls later, Rayner was bowled through the gate by a beauty from Clarke.

Podmore followed suit, losing his off pole to a Clarke leg-cutter as Kent, despite losing their last six wickets for 85 runs in the space of 105 minutes, banked a crucial first-innings.

Clarke and Curran, with three wickets apiece, were Surrey’s outstanding performers with the ball.

Stevens said: “We’re in a very strong situation. We’ve just got to do the basics right in the morning.  They have two lads in now, in Clarke and Curran, who can take the game away from you so we have to be on the ball tomorrow and take off from our good work this afternoon.

“There’s a little bit of low bounce out there and if we get one of these two early we will really be in the game.

“You expect a really good batting pitch at The Oval with good bounce but this hasn’t been that way from day one as most of the nick’s haven’t carried. There lads have been moaning about it,  but we’ll just get on and play the pitch. “

Stevens, who needs one more wicket for the 22nd five-for of his career,  added: “I’m not that interested in the five-for, I’ve got my eye on 500 career wickets. I’m about 15 away,  and that would be a huge achievement. I still love the game and I’m still competing so I’ll ride this train for as long as I can.”

Elgar,  who has scored two 50s in the game, said: “We’re a little disappointed in losing a cluster of wickets near the end there.  My partnership with Rory was important to get us past their lead, but we’ll need to extend our lead by plenty in the morning.

“It hasn’t been easy batting out there but that’s first-class cricket and Kent aren’t here to make it any easier for us.  If you’re patient as a bowler on this pitch you’ll get rewards, but if you’re patient with the bat you can manage to scrape a few runs,  but it is challenging.

“The big goal is to try and bat to lunch and then reassess and potentially have a crack at Kent if the pitch deteriorates.”