Wickets tumble as Kent beaten
Wickets tumble as Kent beaten

In its 168 years, Canterbury Cricket Week has never witnessed anything quite like it as Essex overcame a first-innings deficit of 112 to land an astonishing three-wicket Specsavers County Championship win with over a day to spare.

On a day when 26 wickets fell, even the festival week jazz band fell silent while casual conversations in marquees dropped to a whisper as four-day cricket made a dramatic return from its mid-season sojourn into the T20 jamboree.    

At the start of an astounding third day’s play Essex, the Specsavers County Championship’s first division leaders, lost nine, first-session wickets for 82 runs to concede a first-innings lead of 112.

Harry Podmore bagged four for 34 for the hosts, while the ageless Darren Stevens – in his 44th year and making his 300th first-class appearance – chipped in with three for 17 including the prized scalp of Sir Alistair Cook.

If that weren’t thrilling enough, Kent then conspired to be bowled out for 40 inside 18.1 overs – their lowest ever total at The St Lawrence ground since the county first played here on August 2, 1847.

No home batsman reached double figures, three posted ducks while the highest stand proved to be a paltry 13 as Kent succumbed inside 18.1 overs. For their part, Essex conceded no extras, Mohammad Amir bagged two for 16, while Sam Cook starred during a nine-over spell from the Pavilion End.

The 22-year-old seamer from Chelmsford followed his first innings tally of five for 42 with a princely seven for 23 – a career-best innings return to go with his best ever match figures of 12 for 65 as Kent posted their lowest ever total against Essex, beating their previous worst display of 43, mustered at Southend in 1925.

Shell-shocked and seemingly downcast, Kent’s bowling attack took to the field well before tea, but Stevens soon raised home spirits by having Nick Browne caught in the cordon for his 497th first-class wicket.

After tea, Cook fell for the second time in the day when he nicked Matt Milnes to second slip. The former Nottinghamshire livewire then trapped Dan Lawrence lbw and, at 51 for three, Essex were clearly suffering from an attack of the jitters.

Ravi Bopara added to Stevens’ tally when he feathered an away-swinger to the keeper and then Tom Westley shouldered arms to a Mitch Claydon in-ducker to lose his off stump.

Claydon enticed Ryan ten Doeschate to follow one outside off to nibble another into the keeper’s gloves and, at 84 for six, Essex still required 69 for their eighth win of the campaign.

Experienced seventh-wicket partners Adam Wheater and Simon Harmer steadied the Essex ship with a crucial stand worth 57 that took Essex to within 12 runs of the win line before Claydon sent Harmer packing to the 15th lbw decision of the game.

It was left to Wheater, and a single to mid-wicket by Mohammad Amir to polish the job off with eight overs of the day remaining.

Despite the loss of 102 overs to rain during the opening two days of the match, the game was done and dusted within 189 overs, yet James Whittaker, the ECB’s cricket liaison officer for the fixture, attached “no blame to the pitch”.

So, Kent banked four points after suffering their first home defeat of the campaign, while Essex made the short journey home having strengthened their leadership with a 19-point return.

Adam Wheater, whose unbeaten 30 saw Essex to victory, said: “We had a few wicked games in 2017 but this was a mad, mad day of cricket that was hard to explain. When I got out first time around I felt like it wasn’t a flat wicket, it was probably one of those pitches where it did enough without doing all-sorts. Doing enough sometimes enables collapses, especially when Sam Cook is putting the ball in perfect areas nearly every time. 

“Even when Browny and Cooky started the chase for 153 we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, we knew it would take a team effort and that’s how it turned out. There are three games left now and Somerset keep on winning, which is making it harder for us, but we will just keep taking every game as it comes and see where we finish.”

Sam Billings said: “It was an extraordinary day, a remarkable day of cricket. There was extreme weather over the three days and with the sun out, you’d think it would have been a batting day when we turned up here today, but it was doing absolutely all sorts. 

“With our batting, it was just one of those days when we nicked it or got hit on the pads. getting bowled out for 40, there is always more you can do regardless of the pitch and that has killed us in the game.

“We have done really well to kind of eak it out, but if you get another 20 more runs to 60 or 70 all out then that really is a tall ask for them to get. We were really in the game as well, they didn’t find it any easier than us, they lost nine in the first session as well so by no means was it just one side. It was hugely frustrating after getting ourselves into a good position.”