Kent v Essex, Canterbury, 1st day June 7, 2014

Time is of the essence for Mills

Kent 344 for 7 (Stevens 105, Nash 82, Ryder 5-50) v Essex

Time-keeping has been a bit of an issue for Essex of late. So when Tymal Mills trotted onto the field some 80 minutes after his colleagues, a few in the crowd may have wondered whether another disciplinary ruling could be expected.

County cricket being what it is, no announcements were made. And those spectators not in the know were presumably doubly mystified when Mills - one of the domestic game's most exciting young fast bowling prospects - was then made to wait until midway through the afternoon session before being called into the attack.

Happily, unlike Essex team-mate Monty Panesar - left out of the county's last Championship match, against Glamorgan, for not being in the right place at the right time - Mills was entirely blameless. And, boy, he could not have tried much harder to make an explosive impact before being subdued by Darren Stevens, whose rollicking century put Kent firmly into the driver's seat.

The facts of the matter are that Mills was not supposed to be playing at all. Having only recently recovered from a side strain, the 21-year-old had been left out of the squad for this match and was at home in Chelmsford this morning when the call came to head for Canterbury.

Fellow pace bowlers Reece Topley (knee) and Matt Salisbury (back) both failed fitness tests after waking with aches and pains following the previous evening's NatWest T20 Blast game against Surrey, leaving Kent coach Paul Grayson with a bit of a crisis to sort out.

"We phoned Tymal to get him here as quickly as possible," Grayson said. "But as this is his first four-day game after injury he won't bowl a huge amount of overs." Five overs too many in his first spell so far as both Brendan Nash and Ben Harmison were concerned, it turned out.

A pleasant if somewhat sleepy afternoon of medium-pace, spin and steady run-scoring was turned into an altogether more riveting contest once Mills - having "qualified" to bowl through being on the field for as long as he was off it - had the ball thrown to him by Essex captain James Foster.

The left-armer, who has roughed up several England batsmen during recent Ashes preparations, began by whistling a quick bouncer past Nash and then, with his fifth delivery, ended a third wicket stand of 113 with a delivery which the former West Indies batsman tried to pull but merely top-edged.

It was some start by Mills, especially as the ball was 45 overs old and Nash had played with such certainty in reaching 82 that he looked odds-on to complete his second hundred of the season. Next over, Mills' pace almost did for Daniel Bell-Drummond as well with an edge flashing past third slip to complete the opener's half-century. And, just for painful measure, he then forced Ben Harmison to retire hurt with a finger injury.

Until that brief burst, Jesse Ryder - the New Zealand batsman and medium-pacer - had been Essex's most potent weapon. Indeed, when Ryder claimed a third wicket by ending Bell-Drummond's painstaking innings, it looked as though the visitors might take control.

But Stevens, as he has done so many times in his career, changed a day's play with sound defence when required and joyful, uncomplicated hitting against any delivery giving him even a hint of encouragement to attack.

Stevens had not managed a fifty in eight completed Championship knocks before today but here he reached that minor milestone at only slightly slower than a run a ball - and then accelerated to reach three figures from 94 deliveries.

No wonder the 38-year-old looked delighted with his efforts. His fun ended when he swung once too often to give Ryder the first five-wicket haul of his first-class career but neither that statistic nor the promise of more Mills meteorites in the weeks ahead was much consolation for Essex at the end of a trying day.

David Lloyd is a former chief cricket correspondent of PA and the Evening Standard