Foakes lives up to the hype to save Essex
Essex 212 and 166 for 5 (Foakes 86*, Foster 52*) drew with Kent 296 (Stevens 136, Harmison 55)
For a moment after lunch, with the sun shining and wickets tumbling, there was great intrigue. But a day which started with deserved applause for a well compiled century from Kent's Darren Stevens ended in handshakes and cheers for Ben Foakes and James Foster, who saved Essex's blushes after a top order collapse pried open up the prospect of everything other than a draw.
Unbeaten overnight in the nineties is one thing to contend with, but Stevens had to endure two before getting the chance to convert his first fifty of the season. When the formalities of Stevens' fifth hundred against Essex - a fourth in five years at Chelmsford - and Kent's innings were completed, the game was in a peculiar place, with 73 overs left in the day and the home side 84 runs behind. When they went into lunch unscathed with 18 on the board and both Mickleburgh and Westley looking comfortable, the feeling was that it would take something truly special - or embarrassing on Essex's part - to elicit anything other than a draw. What happened in the afternoon session could be chalked up to both.
Kent's new ball duo of Mark Davies and Charlie Shreck hit their marks superbly as they both persisted on a good length and let their natural traits do the rest. Davies' skid and seam movement drew some false strokes while Shreck's spell of good pace and steepling bounce would have asked serious questions of some of the best players of the game. If anything, that was the only thing he did wrong - his was too good for the Essex batsmen and, one time, Geraint Jones, who was seemingly powerless to prevent four byes from a delivery that exploded off the pitch and burst through his gloves.
While he bowled the unplayable deliveries, Davies dealt in the wicket-taking ones as he saw off Westley, Ravi Bopara (who bagged a pair in the match), Mark Pettini and Ryan ten Doeschate in 11 balls. When Shreck finally some reward with the wicket of Mickleburgh, Essex were reeling on 25 for 5.
But Foster, together with Foakes, saw the side through to tea with 57 more runs and no further wickets. A lead was established in the first over of the evening session and from then on master and apprentice went about their business in what looked to be relative ease.
There is much buzz about Foakes around these parts - evident in the coos that greeted every drive, push through midwicket and controlled pull. He sets himself early and plays the ball late and there was a hint of a swagger emerging as he skipped through the sixties and seventies. He admitted to having a few technical issues early on in the season which he believes, with the help of Matt Walker, are now a thing of the past.
"It's stupid to say when you're five down for not very many, but you really do have to forget about the scoreboard completely," he told ESPNcricinfo. "It also helps being at home, definitely - every run is clapped and you get a lot of support which gives you that extra little push you sometimes need."
The mood around the ground was certainly sprightly. A members' forum after the second day's play attended by Paul Grayson - who, to his credit, never misses them - went off without dissent and, with Owais Shah set to return in the next couple of weeks to reinforce the top order, Essex could maintain their position at the business end of the table. And when a 20-year old shows as much maturity as Foakes did today, you would be hard pressed to find something to complain about.
Credit, too, for Foster - "the best guy you could ask for in those situations," gleamed Foakes - whose quest for runs early in his innings helped release some of the pressure that the Kent had created. That afforded Foakes time and space, reeling himself in for 48 balls before scoring his first boundary. By the time he hit had his fifth - a lovely flowing off drive off Matt Coles to bring up his second fifty for Essex in the county championship - Foster had taken a back seat, quietly bringing up his fifty by the time Foakes had got to 77. Three overs later, he came together with James Tredwell and called the game to a close.
In the end a draw seemed a fair result with both sides, ultimately, appreciative of the points (Essex's seven to Kent's eight) in their respective positions at either end of the table, after a third of the season gone.