Kent 192 (Stevens 64, Stewart 63, Fuller 4-49) and 151 for 7 (Kuhn 39, Dickson 32, Billings 31*, Fuller 3-53) beat Middlesex 161 (Stevens 4-44) and 186 (Henry 4-40, Podmore 3-35, Stevens 3-46) by three wickets
A captain’s cameo innings of 31 not out by Sam Billings helped Kent to a nervy three day, three-wicket win over Specsavers County Championship rivals Middlesex at Lord’s.
The Kent skipper wrapped up his side’s ninth win of the Division 2 campaign with a streaky inside-edged boundary to fine leg to secure a nervy 19-point win that moves the Hop County above Warwickshire and into the temporary leadership of the promotion fight.
It has also been confirmed that Kent have signed the Nottinghamshire seamer Matt Milnes as they seek to strengthen their pace bowling stocks ahead of a potential promotion to Division One.
Resuming under floodlights on their tricky overnight position of 104 for 4 and requiring a further 52 runs for victory, Kent added only two runs before suffering their first loss of the final day, that of Daniel Bell-Drummond.
The former England Lions opener, whose technical difficulties have led to his demotion to No 5 in the order, battled bravely for 28 runs for his contribution to a 52-run fifth wicket stand with Kuhn before he shuffled across his stumps against Ethan Bamber to become the 14th lbw victim of this low-scoring encounter.
Billings, the Kent captain, marched to the crease to get underway with a crisp on-driven boundary against Steven Finn as he and Kuhn added a vital 30 runs for the sixth wicket before Kuhn, playing across a shooting off-cutter from James Fuller, went for 39 from 73 balls before adding to the leg-before tally.
Stevens, Kent’s ageless all-rounder, opened his boundary account with a clipped four through mid-wicket against Fuller to reduce the visitor’s target to 14 before he and Billings survived a run out scare after initially setting off for a single to cover point.
Teenage seamer Ethan Bamber and Fuller, at The Pavilion End, ramped up the pressure with a brace of maidens before Billings moved up to 20 with a straight drive for two but, only for Stevens to become the latest leg before casualty.
Playing across a near yorker-length ball from Fuller, the 42-year-old departed only three short of his 15,000th career run and with Kent 12 shy of their target.
Billings eased the tension by taking seven off the first over of the day from Middlesex debutant Martin Andersson before clinching the win with his fourth boundary.
Harry Podmore, the former Middlesex paceman who took match figures of six for 70 on his return NW8, was the other unbeaten player with just a single.
Middlesex, having suffered their fourth defeat of the summer, are now effectively out of the race for championship promotion.
Angus Fraser, the managing director of cricket at Middlesex, said: “It was another fast-forward game, which we seem to have played a lot of at Lord’s this year. Obviously, I’m disappointed to have lost, but we took some pride out of this match too with the two youngsters out there, in Ethan Bamber and Martin Andersson. To see them play and looking as though they can compete on this stage is really encouraging.
“The disappointment is that the defeat ends the chance of us getting promoted this year and that was our principle goal at the start of the season. So, it’s a quiet dressing room now because the lads know we’ve not played well enough again.
“We made mistakes and struggled again to get the sort of scores on the board that are going to dominate matches. We fought right to the end and showed a lot of character, but in low-scoring tight affairs like this you’re never going to win them all.”
Sam Billings, the Kent skipper who hit the winning boundary, said: “I woke up very early this morning, about 6am, with this match going through my head so it’s great to get over the win line in what was ultimately a very close game.
“The partnership between Grant Stewart and Darren Stevens in our first innings really was the only difference between these two sides and if we’d been chasing another 30 runs it could have been a different story.
“Getting across the line was huge. I felt Heino Kuhn and Daniel Bell-Drummond showed last night how to go about chasing on a tricky surface. It was almost tip-and-run at times, but it was exactly the way to go about things out there because you never let the bowler settle.
“If I’m totally honest, we know this division is going down to the wire. We play Glamorgan and then Warwickshire in the last game, but all our focus is completely on Glamorgan at Canterbury next week and trying to get a result there. We can’t do anything about other teams, neither can we afford to take our eye off the ball in a three-horse race. We want to be in positions like this, now it’s a matter of getting over the finish line.”