In two teams whose prospects lie in the fortunes of their youth, half of the players involved in this match are 25 years old or younger, it was a demonstration from the ageless Darren Stevens and experienced Jesse Ryder that defined the days’ play at Chelmsford.
While the chatter going into the weekend revolved around a former international playing county cricket in an attempt to gain a national recall, few predicated that it would be New Zealand’s Ryder pushing his name forward.
Having played his way back into international contention after impressing for Essex in 2014, where he finished top wicket-taker for the club with 44 wickets at 18.09 apiece, his conduct since has made the likelihood of a New Zealand return inconceivable.
Picked for an A tour to Dubai last year, Ryder withdrew due to personal reasons and was subsequently overlooked for a place in the New Zealand World Cup 30-man squad. He courted further controversy in the Kiwi’s domestic Plunket Shield, missing a round for a charity boxing match before being suspended in the final round for “serious dissent, including the use of offensive language”.
But on a chilly, overcast day in Chelmsford there were no signs of the firebrand behaviour, as he once again demonstrated his prodigious talent, helping to reduce Kent for 193 finishing with 5/43.
Sauntering in, with an energy-reduced bowling action, power coming in the final twisted moments, Ryder may not be perceived as a bowling threat. Yet offering up wily, wobbly seam, the 30-year-old bamboozled Kent’s proficient middle order to rip the impetus from their innings and complete his fifth Essex five-for.
A notoriety for effective, thunderous batting displays, it was his bowling and surprising knack of picking up timely wickets that warmed him to the Essex faithful last season. Their admiration for him was evident when news filtered through to loud applause in the interval of their final 2014 home match that Ryder had signed for a further two years.
The claps were just as audible when he trapped Rob Key lbw in the 15th over of this game, leaving Kent on 39/2. Jamie Porter had taken the opening wicket, his heavier built frame compared to last season, and a bowler friendly track, extracting extra bounce to strike Joe Denly on the arm before the batsmen edged the very next ball through to James Foster.
Ryder doubled his tally when Sam Northeast wafted at a wide delivery clipping it to Greg Smith at third slip. A brief defiance by Daniel Bell-Drummond and Fabian Cowdrey was ended when the former, who had up to his dismissal batted with shrewd attention, went searching for a David Masters delivery and was well-held by Nick Browne in the slips. Cowdrey followed 15 runs later, his bails dismantled by Ryder cutting one back having worked the batsman with his outswingers in the preceding deliveries.
A Master and Apprentice partnership between Darren Stevens and Sam Billings breathed life into the Kent innings, but frustrated by tight bowling Billings eventually fell to Smith driving one to short extra cover. Returning to his seam bowling having experimented with spin last season, Smith then did for Matt Coles before Ryder came back on to take the wickets of Mitch Clyadon and Stevens, whose well-crafted half-century gave Kent a score they could challenge with. Porter’s removal of Ivan Thomas concluded their innings.
And Stevens would harness more of those 17 years in first-class cricket as Kent utilised the green pitch to finish the day ahead. Essex openers Browne and Tom Westley began with poise, but the pair departed in successive deliveries to Thomas and Coles respectively to sucker-punch the reply. Stevens then accounted for 17-year-old debutant Dan Lawrence prior to Coles taking a smart caught and bowled off Foster. Stevens continued his mastery by bowling Ryder, leaving just enough time to make one more contribution when he had nightwatchman Porter snaffled in the five-man slip cordon off the final ball of the day, as Essex slipped to a perilous position of 67 for 6.