Kent will be hoping that the bank holiday thunderstorms forecast for the westerly regions of the county avoid Tunbridge Wells on Monday when the hosts will hope to clinch a Specsavers County Championship double over Division 2 neighbours Sussex.
Although the visitors made it through to stumps on the third day on 182 for six – a mammoth 322 runs short of their victory target – the stark reality is that only a monumental downpour or a miraculous rearguard action will save them from a third defeat of the summer.
Sam Northeast’s side predictably batted through until mid-afternoon to reach 298 for two in their second innings for an overall lead of 502, before bagging four Sussex wickets through to tea.
Harry Finch was pinned lbw by the fiery Matt Coles, who then clung on to a return catch that sent Luke Wells packing for no score. Darren Stevens claimed his sixth wicket of the match by bowling Chris Nash and, at eight for three, Sussex were seemingly hell bent on defeat.
Visiting skipper Luke Wells restored some pride with a pugnacious 38 off 32 balls before his attempted pull shot against James Harris took an inside edge through to the Kent keeper Adam Rouse.
Kent snagged two more after the interval through occasional leg-spinner and man-of the-match, Joe Denly. Fresh from scoring 119 and an unbeaten 71, Denly had Stiaan van Zyl caught behind chasing a wide one and, two runs on, held on to an ankle-high return catch that accounted for Chris Jordan.
Understudy keeper Michael Burgess dug in for 44 in tandem with David Wiese to see Sussex through to the close, but unbeaten Kent remain favourites to land their fourth win in five starts.
Burgess said: “The objective tonight was simply to take the game into the final day. Obviously, we’d have preferred to be only two or three wickets down, but we are where we are so, with a bit of weather around we’ll just have to take it ball-by-ball tomorrow and see where we end up.
“Stiaan [van Zyl] batted beautifully and worked so hard, so he was really frustrated to get out in that manner. It was a short, wide one and he managed to nick it, that’s cricket for you.
“It’s generally played like a pretty good track here. It’s starting to take spin a little now, but after the ball gets soft its quite a nice track to bat on. They’ve batted better on it than we have, that’s obvious from the scores.”
Despite missing out on his first ton of the red-ball campaign Kent’s top-scorer Bell-Drummond was happy with his side’s position in the match: “Sure, I’m disappointed not to get to three figures, but I’m happy with my form overall and that’s something to take forward into the next games.
“Would we have taken this position at the toss on the first morning? Yes, 110 per cent. We’ve got four more big wickets to get and they bat all the way down. They won’t make it easy for us, that’s for sure.
“The new ball is the danger time on this surface and once you get through that 30 over period you can bat longer. The new ball is key and if we need a second new ball on the last day we must make it count."