Mahmood back to boost Kent
Essex 14 for 0 trail Kent 226 (Powell 62) by 212 runs
The Kent faithful supporting the opening day of this 161st Canterbury Week match with Essex left St Lawrence fearing their side's promotion push had all but run its course after seeing their hosts skittled by their lowly neighbours for 226.
Though six of Kent's top eight batsmen reached double figures, only former Glamorgan veteran Michael Powell reached a half-century and showed the required resolve to survive in seamer-friendly conditions.
Though it remained overcast throughout much of the day and there appeared a good covering of grass on the pitch, Kent had elected to bat first and it proved a controversial choice once Essex seam triumvirate David Masters, Graham Napier and Maurice Chambers got to their work with the new ball.
Key was soon shot out, to the 22nd ball of the match in fact, as he worked across the line to clip a firm, low return catch to Chambers off a leading edge.
Sam Northeast's cameo ended when he fended one from Chambers, this time for the Pavilion End, toward second slip where Harbhajan Singh dropped a dolly only for James Foster to snaffle the rebound.
Having dropped Ben Harmison through lack of form, the ex-Durham left-hander has scored only 311 runs at an average of 20 since his move south, Kent gave Alex Blake a rare opportunity to shine at No. 3 but his luck ran out with only 19 to his name. Shouldering arms to a Napier offcutter, he lost his off stump and Kent limped into lunch on 82 for 3.
Two balls after the resumption Brendan Nash sparred at Masters to unerringly pick out Harbhajan at second slip, then Stevens perished for 20 after toe-ending an attempted drive against Napier onto leg stump.
Powell duly dug-in for a watchful 98-ball 50, but his former team-mate at Abergavenny Cricket Club, Geraint Jones, endured a much shorter stay and perished leg before for five when playing down the wrong line against Masters.
On the cusp of the tea interval Powell undid all his good work by chasing wide outside off to snick off into the cordon leaving Azhar Mahmood to see Kent through to a solitary batting bonus point. Making his maiden championship appearance of the summer, Mahmood went down with an attack of cramp when on 30, but called on Northeast to do his running and further frustrate Essex.
Matt Coles lamely chipped to mid-on, Adam Riley perished to the first delivery with the second new ball and then, just one short of his 50, Mahmood was scuppered through the gate by Napier to end the Kent innings just before 6pm.
Essex suffered few alarms in the nine overs remaining in the day and will go into Thursday trailing by 212 runs.