Willoughby blitzes Kent in brief encounter
Kent 17 for 5 (Willoughby 4-8) v Essex
Age does not weary them, not in these conditions anyway. Essex's veteran opening attack of David Masters and Charl Willoughby had Kent stumbling to 17 for 5 on a drastically curtailed day.
The start was a setback to Kent's hopes of taking over the lead in Division Two. Whether a mortal blow has been landed might depend on how effectively Essex can rub in their first-day advantage. They have Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara to bat and can be fairly sure that the England men will not be as easy to dislodge as some of today's victims in the 9.4 overs allowed by the rain.
Masters, still very effective at the age of 34, struck with the day's second delivery when Scott Newman thin-edged a seamer that he should have covered or left, rather than something in between. Willoughby, 37, followed up with some masterly left-arm swing, bursting through the Kent upper order with four wickets for one in nine balls. The England Under-19s left-armer Tymal Mills rocked Glamorgan last week with raw pace; this time Willoughby did the damage with raw subtlety. It is part of cricket's appeal that there can be many ways of achieving the same outcome, through pace, swing or spin, though there is unlikely to be much of the latter in this game.
If the signing of Willoughby from Somerset raised a few eyebrows at the time, they are not raised now, as the slogan might have had it. The South African continued to defy advancing years through fitness and a good, reliable action, quickly exploiting helpful conditions. In his second over he pinned Ben Harmison back on his stumps for an lbw. In his third, he beat Rob Key in front of off stump for another decision and two balls later Michael Powell reached for a drive and snicked a straightforward catch, perhaps expecting the ball to curve into him more than it did. Brendon Nash, the West Indies left-hander, retaliated with a succulent off-drive but when he had his off stump knocked out, Kent were reeling.
Cook must have been quietly pleased that his captain, James Foster, won the toss, sparing him a possible ordeal in poor light and soggy conditions. Kent would have done themselves a favour if they had knocked the ball into the wet outfield more often, reducing the swing, but the bat seldom located the right line.
Perhaps the key will be how well Charlie Shreck and Mark Davies, both useful seam performers, can follow the work of Willoughby and Masters. In support they have the tall Leeds-Bradford University seamer Ivan Thomas, 20, on his Championship debut. Thomas, from Blackheath, took 6 for 21 for the university in the victory over a callow Sussex side last week and bowled well in a favourable draw against Yorkshire in April. If Matt Coles is required by England Lions to play, Thomas, Kent's nominated reserve, should have a good opportunity to make an early mark on the county circuit.