Warwickshire and Kent may have started this match level on points at the top of the table but, by the end of the first day’s play, the Bears looked to be nailed on certainties for the Division Two title. With all their first innings wickets in hand, they trailed the visitors by just 19 runs.
The Bears owed their dominance to some impressive seam bowling by the trio of Keith Barker, Chris Wright and Olly Stone plus a stunning hundred from opener Will Rhodes. His fourth century of the season included 16 fours and a six. He and Dom Sibley shared an unbroken opening stand of 148. After a sticky start to their season, this was their fourth consecutive stand of beyond fifty.
Rhodes impressed at the start of his innings with some crisp drives and hearty pulls. Both Matt Henry and Darren Stevens posed problems. With his burly figure and bald pate, Stevens gives a good impression of a grandfather bowling to the kids on the beach; but grandpas can be cunning so-and-sos and both batsmen were beaten several times.
Later on, Rhodes became completely dominant. He took a special liking to off-spinner Adam Riley, hitting him back over his head for three lofted fours in his first over and then striking him for six over mid-wicket. Another 36 runs tomorrow would take him to 1,000 in what has become a real breakthrough season.
At the start of the day, Kent won the toss and decided to bat on a sunny morning. The pitch was the one used for T20 Finals Day but looked to be in good shape.
Both Keith Barker and Chris Wright got the ball to swing. Zak Crawley was the first to go, edging a Wright outswinger.
There followed a bizarre incident when Keith Barker beat Joe Denly. The ball tickled the off stump but failed to dislodge a bail. If that remarkable piece of luck went Kent’s way, Sean Dickson seemed unlucky to be given lbw to Barker. The evidence of replays suggested that he hit the ball.
Heino Kuhn and Denly battled their way through a testing first hour. The sun was shining but it was definitely a two sweater day.
When new England man Olly Stone came on, he was close to getting Kuhn lbw with his first ball. Kuhn then drove at a widish ball from Stone and was well caught at second slip by Dom Sibley who seems to have inherited Rikki Clarke’s role as Warwickshire’s Mr. Bucket-Hands.
On the stroke of lunch, Robinson fell lbw to Stone – Olly defeating Ollie. At 78-4, the honours were with the Bears.
After lunch, Denly edged Stone and was caught by Sibley, another good two-handed catch. It was hardly a fluent innings but he had battled away for his 30 runs.
Neither Billings nor Stevens lasted long. A vicious inswinging yorker from Barker trapped Billings and Stevens’ half forward push at Wright produced an lbw decision. When Stewart edged Wright and Podmore’s stumps were sent flying by Barker, Kent had subsided to 125-9.
What followed was the highest stand of the innings, 42 runs added by Matt Henry and Adam Riley. Neither showed much sign of permanence at the crease but they didn’t get out until, with the total on 167, Riley fell lbw to Ryan Sidebottom.
The Warwickshire bowling honours were shared by Barker (3-31), Wright (3-29) and Stone (3-36). Warwickshire’s delight in their success may have been slightly tempered by the thought that Barker has yet to sign a new contract, Wright is leaving for Leicestershire and Stone may be unavailable because of England duty next year.
Kent will no doubt be looking desperately for a way back into the game tomorrow whereas the Bears will be keen to press home their advantage.