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Sussex suffer defeat to Kent at Canterbury

Veteran Darren Stevens bagged five wickets to help clinch his side’s three-day innings and 25-run win over Sussex after a record-breaking display of Kent batting that featured double hundreds by Jordan Cox and Jack Leaming.

In near ideal batting conditions at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence, Stevens, now 44, revealed all his bowling wiles to bag five for 50 as the visitors succumbed in their second innings for 173 inside 46.1 overs to lose with six overs and a day to spare on another glorious Canterbury day.       

Needing almost 200 to make Kent bat again, the visitors lost four wickets in 22.1 overs through to tea after Kent had declared their mammoth first innings on 530 for one.

A pugnacious half-century off 68-balls by Harry Finch, which saw him pass 2,000 first-class runs, stemmed the flow of wickets from one end at the start of the evening session, but ageless all-rounder Stevens continued his canny spell to bag the 27th five-wicket haul of his first-class career.    

The Sussex reply had started badly when Salt fell to Harry Podmore’s fourth ball of the innings without scoring. A floating away swinger that Salt could not resist, it flew off an outside edge to second slip where Leaming held a spectacular diving overhead catch.

Having been dropped in the cordon off Stevens when on 17, Tom Haines departed lbw without addition in Stevens’ next over when pushing outside the line of an in-swinger.

Stevens struck again in his next over having Tom Clark caught behind without scoring after edging a wild slash wide outside off stump.

Sussex skipper Ben Brown fell in the tea over, leg before when attempting to work through the leg side to leave Stevens with three for 22 at the interval. 

Soon after resumption, Delray Rawlins clipped a six over backward square leg against Stevens, but the bowler soon had his revenge by running one through the left-hander’s gate to clip the top of off stump.

Stevens produced another beauty that pitched on middle and moved away off the seam to pluck out left-handed George Garton’s off stump allowing Stevens to rest with figures of five for 50 from 15 overs.

Two overs later, Jack Carson pushed at a Podmore leg-cutter to be caught low in the gulley and Finch fell for a gritty 66 when he failed to get on top of an off-drive and picked out Sam Billings diving low at extra cover.

Tim Groenewald had Henry Crocombe caught behind on the drive and last man Mitch Claydon skied to the keeper as Kent won and banked 24 points for their first Bob Willis Trophy win. Sussex travelled south with only three points for their troubles.

Earlier, Kent’s Leaning and Cox smashed unbeaten career-best double centuries in an unbroken club record first-class stand worth 423 spread over 95 overs.

Teenager Cox broke numerous records during his 570-ball stay with 47 fours and three sixes for 238 not out, while Leaning joined him with 220 not out from 345 balls and 29 boundaries in a shade under 6.5 hours.

The declaration after 120 overs, a regulation in the new Trophy competition, came shortly after 2pm with Kent on 530 for one for a first-innings lead of 198. Yet it was hardly soon enough for a shattered Sussex attack who had toiled for eight hours for one wicket, that of Daniel Bell-Drummond for 43.

Resuming on their healthy overnight score of 338 for one and a first-innings lead of six, Kent’s second-wicket partners Cox and Leaning continued to churn out the runs.

Leaming, who was dropped by Tom Haines at long leg when on 19 after a top-edged hook against Stuart Meaker, made Sussex pay by reaching his 150 from 232 balls with 22 fours. He had already comfortably eclipsed his previous best first-class score of 123 set for Yorkshire against Somerset at Taunton in 2014.

Cox then posted his maiden double-hundred in first-class cricket. By scampering a single to point off George Garton he reached the landmark off 311 balls with 25 fours and three sixes.

The 19-year-old went on to notch Kent’s highest individual innings against Sussex, beating Neil Taylor’s 203* set at Hove in 1991, and then became the county’s highest maiden century-maker - beating the 57-year-old record of 211 made by David Nicholls against Derbyshire at Folkestone in 1963.  

The records continued to tumble when Leaning moved to his maiden double century with a five. Sprinting a single to mid-wicket, Leaning saw Jack Carson’s throw deflect off the non-striker’s end stumps and away to the boundary. Leaning’s 200 came in 351 minutes off 289 balls and with 29 fours.

By lunch, the pair had sailed past Kent’s highest first-class partnership record against any county, which was 382 set by Sean Dickson and Joe Denly for the second wicket against Northamptonshire at Beckenham in 2017. They had also beaten the 131-year-old Kent record for any wicket in matches against Sussex of 249 by fourth-wicket partners George Hearne and Francis Marchant at Gravesend in 1889.

Indeed, Kent’s total of 530 for one became the fourth highest single-wicket score in global first-class cricket history behind the world record of 561 for one held by Karachi Whites batting in the Patrons Trophy against Quetta at the Karachi Stadium in 1977.  

The greatest pity was of course that, because of Covid-19 social distancing restrictions, no supporters were here to witness any of it.