Kent 369 (Denly 88, Crawley 69, Bell-Drummond 64, Kuhn 54) and 124 for 5 (Robinson 51*) beat Surrey 271 (Elgar 63, Foakes 60) and 218 (Elgar 65, Stevens 5-60) by five wickets
The sun was at its warmest of the week, but the Oval at its quietest as two true men of the game stood no more than ten yards apart dissecting a riveting contest and placing it in the context of their campaigns. While Matt Walker, Kent's head coach, exuded pride and joy, Alec Stewart warned that his own Surrey group are in danger of heading in the wrong direction of the Championship.
Kent know all about the second division having spent eight seasons there before earning promotion last summer. Surrey were celebrating the first division title back then, but events of the past four days and the eventual result reflect what has happened in 2019. Kent's young players have risen to challenges and their bowlers could not have operated with more discipline. They are doing the basics very well. Meanwhile, Surrey have been hit by injury, inconsistency and perhaps self-doubt.
And so, while Kent now stand five points from being level with Yorkshire in third place, Surrey teeter above only Nottinghamshire. As it happens, Surrey and Notts meet at Trent Bridge starting on Saturday. "It is alright saying we are a good side with good players," Stewart, the director of cricket, said. "They have to show why they have earnt the right to be called good players."
Ollie Robinson completed Kent's first Championship win at the Oval for 11 years by driving Dean Elgar over long on, emphatically ending a chase of 121 that began calamitously when Morne Morkel removed Zak Crawley and Joe Denly for first over ducks. The six raised Robinson's unbeaten half-century from 41 balls to reinforce a collective impression of an improving side brimming with self-belief.
"I think we played some brilliant cricket," Walker said. "We spoke to coaches and people from outside when we came up, but as a player you don't really know what it will be like and you have to learn quickly. While we have made mistakes, this result shows how far we have come in a short space of time. To be honest, I am extremely proud of the group. That little innings from Ollie when the chips were down was pretty special."
Stewart thought that Surrey's determined attempt to defend what always looked to be slightly too few runs typified the 60 percent of the time they have played well overall. "That other 40 percent has proved expensive," he said. "We have to realise if we carry on as we are, we will be going in the wrong direction. People say we have batsmen out of form. No, we have batsmen out of runs. They are hitting the ball well, but their shot selection is costing them dearly."
Will Jacks may replace Scott Borthwick against Notts having scored a half-century in the second team's innings defeat to Essex this week. Amar Virdi did not play there, and Stewart revealed that the off-spin bowler has been with the first team group not as a contender to play - the intended switch with Gareth Batty apart - but to work under supervision on fitness, strength and conditioning as well as skills.
Virdi has been given targets under threat that his season will be over, before it has effectively begun, unless he meets them. "Over the past two weeks, he has worked exceptionally well, but that has to be the norm," Stewart said. "You have to be fit and look after yourself, and be careful. If not, you are either an injury waiting to happen, or your performances drop off. He is responding, he is starting to understand that. It might appear tough love, but we want him to go on and play for England."
Here, Virdi spent lunch bowling at a stump on the edge of the square as the contest itself hung in the balance. Kent had taken the remaining four Surrey second innings wickets for 39 runs in the first hour, but the chilling opening over from Morkel - to describe it as 'hostile' barely conveys the threat - suddenly gave the chase a tougher appearance.
Sean Dickson then fell to the last ball before the break going too far across to Rikki Clarke, and when Daniel Bell-Drummond nicked one from Sam Curran, Kent were still 71 runs short. But Heino Kuhn responded positively and Robinson, having held six catches in the Surrey second innings, showed maturity beyond his 20 years. Oddly, Rory Burns held back Morkel's return until Kent needed only 34 more to win.
"This is probably one of our best wins of the past few years," Robinson said. "I would be lying if I said there were not a few nerves out there after the first over, but we knew a couple of partnerships would do it. I had never been in that situation before. I had never won a game for Kent so it does feel special. I think we have upset the odds a little bit. Not many people would expect us to be where we are."