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June 10, 2014
Kent 387 (Stevens 105, Nash 82, Bell-Drummond 56, Ryder 5-54) and 255 for 8 dec (Bell-Drummond 92, Ryder 5-56) drew with Essex 440 (Bopara 162, Westley 116, Claydon 5-82)
Profiles of Daniel Bell-Drummond refer to his "aggressive style and lavish strokeplay" - and there is no doubt the young batsman can give it a biff because he scored 59 off 30 balls in a T20 match just a few weeks ago. But, on the evidence of this contest, "bolt-tight defence, cast-iron temperament and appetite for a fight" can be added by way of description.
Bell-Drummond's first-innings half-century was overshadowed by first Brendan Nash and then Darren Stevens, both of whom made run-scoring look relatively easy - but only after the 20-year-old opener had battened down the hatches following a couple of Essex successes with the new ball.
On Tuesday, though, no one was in any doubt who deserved star billing as Kent earned the draw that had looked odds-on the night before but could so easily have eluded them once the visitors scented blood during a morning session of pressure cricket that was wonderful to watch.
Bell-Drummond, promoted to opener from No. 3 a couple of weeks ago and playing only his 29th first-class match, stood firm and unflinching as Essex struck three times in the space of eight overs while only two runs were added. The contest had reached a real crisis point, from Kent's perspective, because at 73 for 3 they led by just 20 runs.
There was no shortage of chat in the middle and precious little respite. But Bell-Drummond seldom looked like succumbing and, while never able to express himself as he might have wished, his reward was a Championship-best score. The former England Under-19 player deserved a maiden hundred in the competition but was denied that by Essex's somewhat unlikely bowler of the match, Jesse Ryder, who pinned him lbw for 92 as he moved across his stumps in an attempt to flick to leg.
'One of my most important knocks'
After nearly five-and-half hours of defiance it was no wonder that Bell-Drummond had to drag himself from the field. But while this innings, like the first, was not blemish-free - he survived a difficult, one-handed slip chance to Nick Browne off Tymal Mills when 26 - there was plenty to be proud about.
Essex, too, deserved enormous praise and if any county in the second division pack can make an impression on the current top two, Worcestershire and Hampshire, one suspects it might be James Foster's men. Here, they came so close to suffocating their opponents during a terrific passage of play after an early morning ball change.
David Masters did his bit with a typically accurate spell, which allowed captain Foster to tighten the grip still further by posting two slips, two leg slips and two short legs. But, as in the first innings of this match, it was Ryder who did the damage by plucking out Rob Key's middle stump, having Sam Northeast caught on the drive at second slip and flicking Nash's glove.
Somehow, the hosts had to break free. They succeeded to an extent with Ben Harmison taking advantage of a couple of short, leg-side deliveries from first change Mills but they still looked far from comfortable. And Bell-Drummond's reprieve reminded them just how much work was still to be done.
In the end, the crucial partnership was one of 86 for the fifth wicket between Bell-Drummond and Stevens. But Kent kept losing batsmen just when they were close to safety, and even their young opener was not quite able to complete the job. Bell-Drummond had taken them near enough, though, and all that really mattered thereafter was a final wicket for Ryder. Having never taken five wickets in an innings, the medium-pacer had now done it twice in the same match to finish with 10 for 110.
David Lloyd is a former chief cricket correspondent of PA and the Evening StandardFeeds: David Lloyd
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