Cricket is too one-sided, the despairs of late have sounded: “It’s a batsmen’s game”. And on a pitch that held its green April tan, few spectators at Chelmsford were complaining as the bowlers enjoyed some seasonal assistance.
In truth, while the strip was accountable for variable bounce which deceived a couple of unfortunate victims, Tom Westley in particular unlucky for the Ivan Thomas delivery which darted back in low, decision-making was just as culpable for the way a portion of the 17 wickets that fell on the second day.
Early season jitters and rustiness could explain for some, but as Jaik Mickleburgh and his Kent opponent Sam Northeast demonstrated, alongside Graham Napier’s blitzkrieg batting, reward was available.
Both sides will rue the manner in which avoidable wickets were lost – Kent maybe more so considering the superior position they found themselves in after taking a 29-run first innings lead – although their trio of evening Essex dismissals may gloss over that fact if they can topple the rest before Essex reach 193.
That they could put on such a chase was thanks to the diligence of Northeast and bluster of Darren Stevens, who once again attempted to rekindle a stuttering Kent start by hitting his first ball back over the bowler’s head for four.
He was unable to pick up his 12th first-class half-century against Essex, and 60th altogether, though, out for 36, edging Jesse Ryder behind having struck his previous ball for six. By then, he had at least spent enough time to offer encouragement to partner Northeast, who continued his 2014 form finishing on 77.
On the face of last year’s stats, Northeast’s 905 runs at 37.70 looks like a decent return, but they’re made even more impressive when you take into consideration his split in summer form.
Dropped in early June after recording just 178 runs in his first 12 innings, Northeast came back for the final seven matches and made 694 runs in the final at an average of 63.
“The main emphasis this year was to get some good starts and not worry too much if there was a bad wicket and not let that bother me,” Northeast said.
“This isn’t the easiest place to come when it is nipping around, but to get through that first bit when David Masters, Ryder and Jamie Porter were bowling really well and put on a bit of a partnership with Stevo at a crucial time, I’m pretty happy. If you can score runs on here, you can score runs anywhere.”
Controlled, medium pace was the order of the day; Stevens, Masters and Greg Smith duping many. Daniel Bell-Drummond was done by a beautiful Masters delivery that kissed the edge and nipped to James Foster. The formula proved successful on two further occasions, dismissing Rob Key and Fabian Cowdrey within two overs of each other.
Jamie Porter’s bustling pace had already got Joe Denly inside the second over of Kent’s innings, his fizzing shot hit to Daniel Lawrence for a duck.
The lower order were able to put on a further 20 runs before Tea to set Essex a challenging total, and Mitch Claydon’s evening intervention, who had Nick Browne and Mickelburgh, out for the second time in a day, alongside Westley’s leg stump flying, puts the match tentatively poised.
In the morning, Napier led the fightback, harassing the Kent bowlers with a punishing, if short-lived, batting display that brought some onlookers to briefly reminisce of his then world-record breaking 152 smack-a-thon.
Brought in shortly after the start of play, when Greg Smith became Stevens’ fourth victim, with only two extra runs on the board from the overnight score of 67/6, Napier set about improving the score.
And his blistering half-century – coming by way of 32 balls, including a lofted, twisting drive to dissect Kent’s pair on the off side boundary and a punched six – moved Essex back into contention.
His eventual fall, a Kent trap set up using the extra bounce Matt Coles achieved from the Hayes Close End, was completed by the diving Northeast at third man.
His departure began a flurry of wickets that saw the final three perish for 15 runs; Mickleburgh prevented from converting his hard-worked 46 to a half-century by driving straight to short cover and a Monty Panesar cameo was ended by Coles poleaxing his off stump.