Davies adds to England woes
Essex 94 for 2 (Pettini 61*) trail Kent 225 (Stevens 119, Willoughby 5-70) by 131 runs
The county bowling cohorts have done England's opening partnership no favours in the build-up to the West Indies series. Alastair Cook was undone lbw for a single at Chelmsford today to follow innings of 9 and 5 at Cardiff last week -- not much to build on before next Thursday's Test at Lord's.
With Andrew Strauss having a torrid time at Middlesex, Kent's new signing Mark Davies ensured Cook drew a near blank by straightening a lovely seamer into the left-hander's pads. The next ball drew Tom Westley forward, kicked off the seam and found a thin edge safely pouched behind the wicket. With Essex faltering at 3 for 2, Kent were ready to cash in on Darren Stevens's top-rate century, especially as there was no sign of Ravi Bopara, Cook's England colleague.
Bopara spent the afternoon resting his leg rather waiting for a go at the crease. He was due to visit Broomfield Hospital immediately after play for a precautionary scan on an apparently minor thigh strain suffered in his over before lunch when Essex were trying to break a long sixth-wicket stand between Stevens and Geraint Jones.
Only after Davies had been rested -- his first spell was 7-3-5-2 -- did Essex begin to make progress through some dashing strokeplay by Mark Pettini. He cut and drove the ball so crisply over the lush outfield and scampered so well that it was hard to believe that his first class average was 32. His winter in Zimbabwe domestic cricket, based in the beautiful mountainous Mutare district, appeared to have refreshed his game. He batted well in Zimbabwe for the Mountaineers.
Kent's debutant Ivan Thomas, replacing Davies at the Hayes Close end, bowled steadily with an upright action, a languid build-up producing deceptive whip off the pitch, but Pettini and Billy Godleman stuck to their task. Godleman, never a thing of cricket beauty, scuffed and deflected 27 his way through Essex's 39 overs, but at least he hung around until stumps. Cook would have loved such an extensive sight of the ball.
Stevens and Jones performed wonders to dig Kent out of 9 for 5, putting on 194 together. Stevens finished with a high-quality 119 off only 170 balls and Jones made a worthy 88, no one else mustering more than six. Essex's bowlers toiled, even the first-day destroyer Charl Willoughby, and the fielding substitutes were given a busy day rotating in the absence of Bopara and Alviro Petersen, who was still nursing a sore ankle.
When Stevens top-edged Greg Smith for six over fine-leg to advance to 91, it was clear that Kent had regained the initiative. Their grip was eventually broken when Stevens sliced a drive to cover. Jones perished at long-off attempting to farm the bowling after off-spinner Westley had picked up three wickets in eight balls.
After losing virtually two days to rain, this excellent fluctuating match deserves a finish.