Kent’s irritation at missing out on promotion went some way to explaining the defiance of their skipper Sam Northeast who, on the final day of the Specsavers Championship campaign, elected to notch his fifth first-class ton of the summer rather than conspiring in any sort of last-day contrivance with Division 2 champions Essex.
The top two sides in the second tier finally shook hands on a draw at 4.20pm, by which time Kent had reached 288 for five declared for an overall lead in the match of 437.
Gordon Hollins, the ECB’s chief operating officer, presented Essex with their trophy and winners’ cheque soon after, leaving Kent contemplating another season in the lower ranks and to mull over the opening match of the 2016 campaign at New Road, where not a ball was bowled over the four days.
The outcome of the Worcestershire match and Kent’s subsequent appeal still raises the blood pressure of supporters down in the Garden of England, and Northeast, as well as the county’s chairman, George Kennedy, have been reluctant to let the matter drop.
Ahead of the final round, Kennedy said: “That Kent only received five points from that abandonment, when as the away team we were entirely blameless, still rankles with me. It can be argued it denied us the chance to play for 19 more points.”
So, after Kent’s failure to make Essex follow-on on the fourth and final morning, the top two sides had only bragging rights and averages to play for on the last day of the summer. And, having seen his side lose four early wickets in the quest for quick runs, Northeast took the pragmatic approach and let his bat do the talking.
Starting their second innings within 15 minutes of the final day’s start, Kent – who banked a first innings lead of 149 – lost Daniel Bell-Drummond to the fifth ball of the innings. Playing across a David Masters off-cutter, the right-hander went leg before without scoring.
With two boundaries quickly to his name, Joe Denly’s positivity got the better of him when he charged down the track to Matt Dixon only to drive into the hands of Nick Browne at extra cover to make it 13 for two.
Sean Dickson also perished when attempting the extravagant, leaning into a drive to a Will Rhodes length ball the South African right-hander edged to Varun Chopra at slip.
The hosts lost first innings top-scorer Darren Stevens in the mid-session when he nicked a leg-glance against Masters to the keeper to depart for 18.
Northeast and Will Gidman flourished either side of tea, adding an unbroken 185 for the sixth wicket with Northeast reaching three figures just before the interval from 119 balls and with 15 fours.
In the final session Gidman, the on-loan all-rounder from Nottinghamshire, posted his fifth 50 in five starts for Kent, leaving Northeast to make hay against some part-time bowling to add an unbeaten 178 to his season’s previous three-figure scores of 191, 190, 189, and 166* and finish the summer with over 2,000 runs in all formats.
Fittingly, Masters, the Essex stalwart who started his career with Kent, sent down the final over - it was a maiden.
Essex had started the day on 289 for nine and needing three to save the follow-on, a target they achieved within nine deliveries when Dixon’s airy drive at Matt Coles flew off a thick inside edge to long leg for the required runs.
Dixon heaved at the next delivery to spoon a catch to Mitch Claydon at mid-on to end the innings with Essex on 292 all out.
Without collusion between the skippers, the game duly petered out into a stalemate. Kent banked 13 points and Essex ten.
Essex seam bowler David Masters who, together with all-rounder Graham Napier, have now retired from the first-class game said: “The lads said I must bowl the last over of the game which I guess was fitting, but it was a really nice gesture.
“I hadn’t expected Kent to line up in a guard of honour when I went out to bat either, it was a bit of a shock if I’m honest, but it was a lovely touch all the same."