Published On: Fri, Aug 26th, 2016

Bubbly Kent delight in Viljoen's hostile debut

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Kent 533 for 6 dec (Billings 171, Stevens 140) beat Gloucestershire 221 (Marshall 58, Viljoen 5-55) and 243 (Marshall 118, Viljoen 3-66, Stevens 3-45)

Flashback to Hardus Viljoen dismissing Alastair Cook with his first ball in Test cricket © Getty Images

It says a lot about this Kent side that they were able to keep their patience on the final day against Gloucestershire. The matter at hand was simple: six wickets in three sessions, plenty of overs with a second new ball and Michael Klinger already back in the hutch. But Gloucestershire fought hard to stave off defeat, taking the game into a third session to really test the patience of a young Kent spine.

In previous years, when Championship cricket might have been regarded as a nuisance, today it was evident just how much it meant to Kent. While the bowlers started too wide, they improved their lines throughout the day and, with Sam Northeast constantly changing an energetic field to employ tactics that came good, there was something that told you that Kent would see this home.

The wicket of Jack Taylor perhaps summed up the quality of the collective work. Having fed him full deliveries after lunch, Northeast urged his bowlers to test out the batsman’s patience when the ball was bouncing up at head height. Matt Coles served up a sharp bouncer, bounding down the slope from the Ashley Down Road End, the shot came and with it the edge through to Sam Billings.

“Knowing that Essex at won last night was interesting for the guys,” said Northeast. “It meant a bit of extra pressure. But we’re playing some serious good cricket at the moment – this bowling attack keeps performing.” He saved special mention for Hardus Viljoen, as the South African backed up 5 for 55 in the opening innings with 3 for 66 in the second, including the winning wicket, capping off an exceptional debut.

“He has made one of the best debuts I can ever recall seeing from an overseas player,” Northeast said of a man who will now be known for more in England – the Garden of England at any rate – than his debut ball in Test cricket that dismissed Alastair Cook.

Just one wicket fell in the morning session – a gift from Phil Mustard, who had looked unperturbed, drove wildly at a delivery moving across him from Mitchell Claydon, into the hands of Sean Dickson for a simple catch at point. The second session brought three more with it, as Kent broke into the tail with the wicket of Taylor, before Miles and Payne were bowled by Viljoen and James Tredwell respectively.

At the other end, Hamish Marshall was going about his business, the only batsman who seemed to have time on a pitch that got better as the game wore on. Without his 58 in the first innings, defeat may have come sooner. Certainly, his third Championship hundred, while making Kent sing for their supper, was a reminder to all associated with Gloucestershire that he has been a great servant to the county. Not that many needed reminding.

Since joining the club in 2006, initially as an overseas player, he has given more than half of his first class career to the county. Today’s hundred was his 21st for Gloucestershire – 29th in all first class cricket – and the runs in this fixture took him beyond 14,000 in the format. He will now return to New Zealand, where he and his family feel more settled. He has not, as of yet, retired from professional cricket and will seek further opportunities in his homeland over the winter.

In the end, Kent required the new ball to remove him, as Matt Coles delivered a full, outswinging delivery that caught him playing enough across the line to hit him in line. He saluted all sides of the ground, as the Kent fielders joined with those present to wish him well as he made his way back to the pavilion. Not long after he departed, Liam Norwell’s fight faded, as he slashed at a wide delivery from Viljoen for an edge through to Billings to give Kent a fourth Championship win of the season.

As for Gloucestershire, their Championship goose is seemingly cooked. At stumps, it was announced that Klinger is going back to Australia on Sunday as per Western Australia’s request. He was initially going to miss the final two rounds (away to Northamptonshire and home to Sussex) for the birth of his child but, having picked up a shoulder injury, his state has requested he return early and will now miss the upcoming matches away to Derbyshire and Glamorgan, too.

It sums up the end of Gloucestershire’s summer neatly. Having fought valiantly in all three formats, they will limp into the winter with little to show for their efforts.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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