Wed, 19 Jun 2019

Kent 294 and 46 for 1 need a further 380 to beat Surrey 439 and 280 (Curran 80, Borthwick 58, Milnes 4-74)

"We wait. We are bored. No, don't protest, we are bored to death, there's no denying it." Samuel Beckett's Vladimir may have had more cause to ponder the meaninglessness of existence than most, but for much of the third day at Beckenham we were all Vladimirs, desperately Waiting For The Declaration.

In a delicious twist, much like Godot, the declaration never came. Just as the crowd were thinking, like Vladimir's perennial chum Estragon that "they can't go on like this" Surrey mercifully contrived to lose their last four wickets for 19 runs in 15 heady minutes. Being "bundled out" for 280 with a lead of just 426 hardly constituted a drastic change in fortunes for Surrey, but it did lurch the watching public out of their day-long torpor.

This is not to blame Surrey for their tactics. There are just times in red-ball cricket when one side is ahead, significantly ahead. Starting the day with an overall lead of 156 and ten wickets in hand, Surrey held all the cards. Kent needed to make half-a-dozen breakthroughs in the first session if they were to shift the balance of power.

They managed half that in the first half of the session, and momentarily, at 59 for 3, the match situation was, if not in the balance, then in need of tender loving care from Scott Borthwick and Ben Foakes. Surrey's top order had once again had to face good, probing bowling from Darren Stevens, Matt Milnes and Harry Podmore with the new ball. But they bat pretty deep, and also know that this Beckenham pitch rewards patience. Once the ball goes a little softer, the seam a little flatter, the ball comes on to the bat well. The bowling green outfield also gives great value for your shots.

So Borthwick and Foakes dug in. Just 74 runs came in 29 overs but no more than those three wickets had fallen. The frisson of jeopardy that accompanied Dean Elgar's wicket was now a distant memory. We were back speculating on the likely arrival of the declaration. The cricket relapsed into polite gentility; Borthwick standing firm at one end, while Foakes breezed along fluently at the other.

It was rather like a scene in which Jeeves sternly dismisses Wooster's choice of hat while the latter tinkles on the piano. But every time you felt Surrey would be able to take control and cut loose, Kent would counter with a wicket. Foakes edged Podmore behind when the lead had reached 279, then Borthwick fell soon after for his second half-century of the match; once more to the off spin of Adam Riley as the ball cannoned of bat and pad on to his stumps.

But cricket, to paraphrase Estragon, "always finds something to give us the impression we exist?" Today that impression was provided by Sam Curran. Watchful initially, he served up the day's only real dose of fireworks, either side of tea. The second of two huge straight sixes off Riley took him past 2000 first-class runs and he won't be 21 for another 12 days. There can't be many players who have managed that feat without scoring a single century, and his infuriation was palpable when he holed out to Alex Blake off Milnes for 80.

By that stage Kent had very cunningly posted seven players on the rope and were bowling back of a length to the long square boundaries. Curran could have milked 20 singles but he knew the imperative was to get on with it and perished in the service of his team. As Vladimir says, there was "nothing to be done".

By this time, though, the lead was beyond 400. The equation of runs to overs remaining still demanded Surrey bat on. The final three wickets didn't so much fall in a heap as gently drop to their knees and finally we had our target.

It's been tough to bat against the new ball in this match. It's been tough to bat against the new ball, frankly, for the last few seasons, as the averages of openers around the country will testify. Surrey will have had strong hopes that they could make significant inroads but Sean Dickson, fresh from his hundred in the first innings, and also England qualified despite his South African birth, had other ideas, standing firm to reach the close unbeaten on 27. Morne Morkel did pick up Zak Crawley but with nine wickets in hand and 380 runs to force an unlikely win, Kent will feel they got about as much out if this day as they could.

It wasn't a thrilling a day. We will all see better days, and Thursday promises much, but Vladimir perhaps nails it:

Vladimir: That passed the time

Estragon: It would have passed in any case

Vladimir: Yes, but not so quickly

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