Shah lands tellings blows for Essex
Essex 186 for 4 (Shah 83*) v Kent
It is not often that the first day of a four-day game begins and ends under floodlights. But Owais Shah didn't seem to mind as he landed some telling blows for Essex on day where the September sun was second best.
The artificial lights, which were restarted as the players walked off at 4:21pm, allowed us a prompt start yet failed to salvage the 19 overs left in the day, which Kent probably edged on points.
Thanks to Shah, and Gautam Gambhir who has returned from India, the visitors lost only two wickets in the first session: a morning fraught with danger but navigated by experience.
Inserted by Geraint Jones - standing in for James Tredwell, who is away on international duty - the combination of a chilly morning, a spicy track and artificial lighting was always likely to assist Kent's bowlers.
The third ball of the day popped on Jaik Mickleburgh for a simple catch to Daniel Bell-Drummond at forward short-leg. Eleven overs later, Darren Stevens nipped one away from Greg Smith, who nicked the ball to Adam Riley in the slips with only 19 on the board. But despite some probing spells - Mark Davies' opening seven overs, which included five maidens and the wicket of Mickleburgh, went for just three runs - Shah and Gambhir left the ball with ease.
There were a couple of missed opportunities. Jones made up good ground to give him an outside chance of clinging to a top-edge from Shah, on 7 at the time, but was unable to make up the ground fully with an impressive dive. An over later, Gambhir was out of the frame when crossed wires had him skipping out of his crease for a run that Shah had no intention of making. The throw from point was off target by a whisker if the reaction of the fielders was anything to go by.
When Gambhir failed to make his hard work count, dropping his back knee to dispatch a beautiful looking drive off Charlie Shreck into the hands Brendan Nash at cover-point, something stirred within Shah.
Having not scored a post-lunch run up to that point, he freed his arms to put the pressure on Kent's bowlers, most notably Davies; a trio of fours in the 52nd over - one square, one over mid-on and one straight - taking the score past 100. He then brought up his fifty off 118 balls (his first of the season), with a sumptuous late-cut off the same bowler that contained all the elegances associated with the stroke, but with the added oomph that Shah generates from his dexterous wrists.
Ben Foakes came to the crease at 117 for 4 - after Ryan ten Doeschate was lbw attempting to sweep to Riley's very first ball - to assist Shah, as they scored at exactly three an over to ensure they made the most of the best batting conditions of the day. The morning of day two will be another test, but Shah, with over four hours at the crease under his belt, has shown he has enough game to thrive on this pitch. Foakes certainly has enough about him to do the same, and their survival could see some quick, valuable runs added before 110 overs are through.