Kent leave Northants under pressure
Kent 418 (Nash 107, Key 101, Stevens 63, Middlebrook 6-78) v Northamptonshire
Refreshingly, no one at the County Ground made a secret of their interest in the game unfolding at Chelmsford between third-placed Essex and Glamorgan.
Northamptonshire are an honest county who have thrived on frank self-assessments of their short-comings. They have already failed in accruing maximum bowling points, despite the career best efforts of James Middlebrook who took 6 for 78 and, with rain set to hamper the game further, 400 in the home side's first innings inside 110 overs is an absolute must.
It was a day that belonged to Kent - who gained full batting points - particularly the trio of Rob Key, Brendan Nash and Darren Stevens who took turns to pass 1,000 Championship runs for the season. Key and Nash marked the occasion further by registering centuries that overlapped each other in both time and quality. The pair came together following the departure of Daniel Bell-Drummond in the eighth over of the day and put on 134 runs in the next 25.4 overs.
A scoring rate of 5.22 suggests domination from the duo with the bat - and there were times when both treated the bowlers with such malice that you thought you were watching a scene from Casino (all that was missing was a dissenting Joe Pesci). But Northamptonshire cannot have endured a more luckless period in the field than they did in the first hour.
Atmospheric conditions and a lively pitch were always going to lend to an eventful morning. The ball swung, seamed and bounced - Azharullah getting one delivery to do all three; catching the shoulder of Key's bat and flew high above the head of third slip.
But after having his outside edge caught on countless occasions, while his inside edge was beaten, twice, without consequence, Key began to make the most of his good fortune. As the sun came out, he rid himself of any indecision, planted his front foot and began hitting the ball with more purpose as he searched for atonement for a scratchy start.
He owes his mid-morning transformation to Nash, who took the onus off his partner with some timely boundaries that led to a shift in impetus that stayed with Kent through to stumps. Lee Daggett, whose first seven overs cost just 17 runs, was hit for 23 in the last two of his opening spell. Azharullah followed an over after he was involved in a war of words with Key, who took great delight in crashing the bowler, on the up, through cover to take him to his fifty.
A single off Hall took Key to 70 and into four figures for the season, before Nash joined him with a four down the ground off Crook which also brought up his fifty.
Key fell soon after lunch, completing his century with a brace of sixes in three balls - the first of which flew out of the ground over midwicket and required replacing - before sweeping Middlebrook to first slip, via his foot. The disparity between the fluency of his first and second half of his hundred was evident in the 102 and 47 balls it took to bring up each, respectively.
Nash continued on, batting with a grace that he's not often creditted for. His game is one honed through trial and error, but he is capable of the odd flourish one would attribute to a player who has represented West Indies. His flat six over point off a bouncing delivery from Crook was outrageous.
He slowed in the nineties, as Crook pushed him onto the back foot. On 91, he defended a rising delivery that then popped over his shoulder and cleared the stumps by a whisker. Six overs after entering the nineties, he left it for the fifth time this season.
Finally it was Stevens, on 995 runs going into this fixture, who joined Nash and Key with a single, before moving to his fifty thanks to a drop from Daggett, who failed to hang on to a lofted catch while running from mid-off to mid-on.
Daggett would eventually atone as he removed Stevens 14 runs later, but by then Kent were well on their way to further frustrating Northants by passing 400 and, more importantly, holding onto their ninth wicket till the 112th over.