Stevens stars as Kent victorious
Stevens stars as Kent victorious

Kent registered a first LV=Insurance County Championship win of the  season as Leicestershire were beaten by 132 runs inside three days at the Uptonsteel County Ground but only after an extraordinary afternoon that saw the home side avert humiliation with a defiant rearguard action.

After 45-year-old Darren Stevens had completed a superb unbeaten century against his former county, pace bowler Matt Milnes finished with a career-best six for 53, but that told only half the story of a bizarre two sessions of play.

Needing to score an unlikely 386 to win on a pitch aiding spin and in swing-friendly overhead conditions, Leicestershire slumped to 20 for six at lunch.

But an aggressive Ben Mike hit 70 off 52 balls to set off a vigorous wag of the tail that saw Ed Barnes match him with an unbeaten 70 and Will Davis make a career-best 42 as the last four wickets added a scarcely credible 233.

Stevens lit up the early part of the day, transforming his 55 overnight into an unbeaten 107 off just 28 deliveries before Leicestershire were able to winkle out his final partner.

The veteran lofted Mike swept Callum Parkinson for four sixes over the short boundary on the popular side and as he celebrated his 37th career first-class century, Leicestershire  needed no reminding that he should have been out on the second evening on 40 when he hit Barnes in the air to midwicket but neither of two converging fielders made the catch.

Stevens scored 107 of the 120 runs added for Kent’s last five wickets before Colin Ackermann bowled James Logan to claim the one outstanding overnight. Stevens hit 13 fours and six sixes, facing just 70 balls.

What was always a daunting target then soon looked impossible for Leicestershire.

Milnes made his first breakthrough in his third over as Hassan Azad was trapped in front and he could not have imagined he would have a five-for under his belt 21 balls later.

He had Ackerman caught at second slip off a yorker-length ball, bowled Louis Kimber, celebrated a fourth success as Harry Swindells misread the line and a fifth when Lewis Hill was caught behind down the leg side, sending Leicestershire to lunch at 20 for six from 12.1 overs, Stevens picking up the other wicket with an inswinger to Sam Evans.

But Mike began the afternoon by driving, hooking and pulling three fours in an over to see Milnes removed from the attack and continued apace as he and Parkinson added 77 in 10.3 overs before the introduction of Logan’s spin saw the latter caught behind.

Mike ultimately sliced Logan to wide long off and though the result never looked in any doubt Barnes delayed it with an impressive second first-class fifty, adding 33 with Chris Wright, who was unlucky to be given out caught behind from a ball that appeared to come off his helmet as he went to hook Milnes, and 92 with Davis before the latter slashed at one from Nathan Gilchrist and Kent could finally celebrate.

Kent’s Matt Milnes, who took a career-best six for 53, said: 

“It was almost a feeling of relief to get the win in the end.  Darren’s hundred gave us the lead and for us then to come out and take early wickets as we  did put them on the back foot and pretty much killed the game.

“But credit to their lads, they batted pretty well. Barnes played well and Ben Mike very well but from our point of view we have a bit to learn from that last hour if we want to go to the next level.

“We were creating chances but they seemed to not go to hand. They are allowed to have partnerships and we had enough runs on the board for it never to really be an issue but we maybe need to learn when to go hard and when to sit in a little bit, although nobody bowled badly.

“But what can you say about Stevo? I would say he surprises me every time but he doesn’t any more. I’ve been playing with him for three years and he just keeps doing it. He is just a freak and when and if he retires I don’t think anyone can replace him.”

Leicestershire first-team coach Tom Smith said:

“It has been an extraordinary three days from being on top with Kent 117 for six at tea on day one to losing by 130 runs and you ask where did it all go wrong.

“And at 20-6 at lunch the game was in a pretty perilous state but credit to the lads for showing some real fight and courage to play the way they did this afternoon. It showed the ability they have and it was great to see Ben Mike going out there and showing what he can do and it is up to those guys to take confidence from today into the next three games.

“Darren Stevens showed the value of experience, at 45 years of age, scored a hundred and then takes the new ball, and Ben and the guys must learn to take these experiences forward. If they can do that as well as Stevo, they will be doing very well.

“The pitch played well over the three days, it played exactly how we wanted to play but credit to Kent they played some good cricket.”