Essex v Kent, County Championship, Chelmsford, 1st day April 8, 2011

Stevens rips through Essex

Stumps Essex 49 for 6 (Stevens 5-14, Walker 7*, Foster 0*) v Kent 247 (Northeast 112, Chambers 3-51, Masters 3-64)

On a day when Ashes hero Alastair Cook made only six runs, Sam Northeast launched his season with a magnificent 112 to hold the Kent innings together against Essex in the County Championship at Chelmsford. The 21-year-old, who arrived to do battle after skipper Robert Key had fallen to David Masters' fourth ball of the morning, combined controlled aggression with discipline to lead the visitors to what appeared to be a modest total of 247.

But it soon took on the appearance of a massive one as Essex collapsed to 49 for 6 by the close, with Darren Stevens picking up 5 for 14 in 12 overs. It represents his first five-wicket haul in what is his 171st first-class match and came after the medium pacer had been surprisingly entrusted with the new ball.

It proved to be an inspired move by Key because Stevens found enough movement to trouble all the batsmen. He embarked upon his destructive course by removing Cook who, from the 25th ball he received, edged to wicketkeeper Geraint Jones.

Billy Godleman and Ravi Bopara quickly followed, both with the help of Martin van Jaarsveld at second slip, while nightwatchman Maurice Chambers and Tom Westley were his other victims. Jaik Mickleburgh was the other Essex batsman to depart, bowled by Simon Cook, as Kent took a commanding grip on the match.

Earlier Northeast held centre stage. He drove and pulled with power and assurance as he reached his century from 148 deliveries. In all he laced his innings with 10 fours and two sixes before he was undone by Chambers when hooking into the hands of Westley on the deep square leg boundary.

One Essex player who will look back on the day's events with a degree of satisfaction is Reece Topley. Aged just 17 and due to sit his AS level examinations at the Royal Hospital School, Suffolk next month, he marked his Championship debut with a couple of wickets at the cost of 68 in a dozen overs.

A strapping 6ft 7in, the left-hand fast bowler displayed plenty of fire, bowling Joe Denly with his third delivery and later breaching the defences of Alex Blake. Topley, watched by his father Don, a medium pacer who played for Essex for nine years from 1985, also deflected a straight drive from Northeast onto the stumps to run out James Tredwell.

He later came in for some punishment as he tired and started to stray in length, but his performance showed he has the potential to succeed in the game. Masters and Chambers, with 3 for 64 and 3 for 51 respectively, did the lion's share of the bowling while left-arm spinner Tim Phillips picked up the other Kent wicket.

Essex no doubt felt some satisfaction in keeping Kent below 250 but it was not long afterwards that the deeds of Stevens left them shellshocked.