Stevens edges Kent ahead between showers
Kent 214 for 5 (Stevens 91*, Harmison 55) lead Essex 212 by two runs
Rain greeted Chelmsford's early birds and, while it didn't affect the start time, it did return to produce a stop-start afternoon and evening session that Kent ended up handling better, thanks to a 145-run partnership between Darren Stevens and Ben Harmison. Coming together at 43 for 4, the pair worked patiently to see off the rain delays - 25 overs' worth - and give Kent a first-innings lead for the first time this season.
The arrival of Stevens injected calmness into proceedings, as he kept his concentration to bat throughout the day while also staying alert to any error in line or length from the bowlers. As the sun shone late into the evening session and batting conditions improved he took the attack to the bowlers - Ravi Bopara in particular feeling the brunt of Stevens' wrath.
The 37-year-old seems to relish his encounters with Essex - averaging over 45 with the bat and under 28 with the ball - and after his four wickets on the first day it seemed almost inevitable that he would excel again. Fitting, too, that he would be the one to score the runs to take Kent past Essex.
Harmison, a slightly smaller yet fuller version of his brother Steve, went under the radar somewhat, content to play out maidens without even a glance at the scoring rate. He stirred in the forties, crashing two fours of Ryan ten Doeschate in three balls to take him to his half century, before chasing a wide one off the same bowler to depart for 55.
The moisture in the air coupled with overhead conditions helped David Masters and Reece Topley in the morning. Masters beat the outside edge of Sam Northeast's bat on more than one occasion; unfortunately for Masters, when he did find it, first slip was found wanting. But the bowler at the other end had more to smile about thanks to an excellent five-over spell that earned him two wickets for only seven runs.
It's hard not to be excited by Topley; his approach to the crease is smooth, with an action easy on the body, losing none of his 6ft 7in at the crease and, unlike Steven Finn, he might even be taller than his own run-up. His wicket to get rid of Brendon Nash was a thing of beauty - the ball angling into the left-hander, before arching away slightly and nipping off the pitch to just miss the bat and catch off stump, flush. For his next wicket, Topley squared-up the right-handed Mike Powell, who could only edge to Tom Westley at third slip.
When Northeast was strangled down the leg side, you would be forgiven for thinking Kent were on for successive disappointments with the bat, after being skittled by Worcestershire and Alan Richardson for 63 last week.
But Stevens and Harmison came together and rebuilt the innings in an impressive 48-over stand. If anything, they were aided by the rain delays as Essex's bowlers struggled to get into any real rhythm or build on their morning success. Leaving the field four times would not have helped that. Even then, Masters thought he had Stevens caught behind until umpire Alex Wharf said otherwise, and then Michael Gough at the other end was asked to adjudicate on a ball from Graham Napier which did not bounce and hit Harmison on the pad. It looked very close but he too turned down the appeal, much to the bowler's dismay.