New-boy Howell shows the way
Gloucestershire 131 for 6 v Kent
Canterbury didn't seem quite prepared for the start of a new season. As play began a digger was still rumbling away at the new club offices, workmen aboard ladders hammered up hoardings and supporters hoping to use the overflow car park were turned away because of a flood.
At least on the field, Kent were into the swing of a new campaign. Matt Coles, who started the season with a maiden championship hundred, this time stood out with the ball with three wickets as Gloucestershire declined to 131 for 6 by the close of an abbreviated day.
But swing was not the primary factor of Kent's success with the ball. Movement off the seam from the Nackington Road End produced wickets for Coles and Mark Davies to leave Kent, who won the toss, firmly on top.
Those glancing at the scorecard may have pulled a seems-fair-enough face given the conditions around the country but the ball did not swing excessively and the pitch was fine; it was slow, like the sluggish outfield, but perfectly agreeable for batsman with the correct technique. But such necessities were lacking in Richard Coughtrie, defying the cold in short sleeves, and Hamish Marshall. Both were caught on the crease to deliveries where they had to be forward.
Likewise Chris Dent - a talented player who scored a first-innings century against Hampshire last week. He cut his second ball without moving his feet and got an inside edge low to Geraint Jones. Alex Gidman went the other way, following a ball outside off to edge behind; his dropping by Ben Harmison at third slip only costing Kent four runs.
It did not take batting genius to succeed as Benny Howell underlined with a very comfortable 44. Howell was released from Hampshire last season after only one Championship appearance in which he made a second-innings 71 against Lancashire. But one 2nd XI game for Gloucestershire on Monday was enough demonstration of talent to be picked here: his retirement on 207 against Surrey at Bristol a successful trial.
He certainly looked in good nick, timing the ball well and thumping six boundaries - his power was evident. Lunch checked his momentum and he was lbw in the second over after the interval to one that nipped back.
"It was a bit unfortunate in the end at Hampshire," Howell said. "I did alright; I played all the one-day games but was just disappointed at the lack of opportunities in four-day cricket. So I was looking to move on and luckily I've got this opportunity pretty early. I felt in good nick. The pitch was a bit slow and it took time to get used to the slope - it just keeps going with the angle."
It was the slope which had claimed two of Howell's colleagues. But he adjusted well and showed a technique that bettered many in the order: the main factor in the visitors' predicament. The bowling was not good enough to put Gloucestershire in the trouble in which they find themselves.
The point was proved as Ian Cockbain and Will Gidman concentrated long enough for a stand of 58 for the sixth wicket - a desperately needed partnership. Both are functional players and neither got into any rhythm. Gidman drove with a lack of timing and his cut for four to bring up the half-century stand was his best stroke.
But rhythm was difficult to find with the looming weather. The floodlights came on and off and on again; sunshine teased in among heavy showers - the second burst forced tea at 3.15pm. A third series brought the close at 5.45pm with the loss of 42 overs during the day.
Rain-filled days often produce an impossible situation for batsman and, sure enough, to the penultimate ball of the three-over evening session, Davies angled one into Cockbain who got an inside edge onto his front pad and was caught in the gully: a dismissal which rounded off Gloucestershire's sloppiness.
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo