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July 20, 2014
Kent 351 for 7 (Northeast 91, Billings 57*) vs Surrey
Kent were forced to drop Sam Northeast after a confidence sapping run of form, bringing fears that his much extolled potential was close to expiring. But it seems that a spell in the shadows has provided him with a healthy dose of reassurance and sustenance.
An unproductive start to the season triggered doubts over his longer-format pedigree - twelve Championship innings yielded just 178 runs - but Northeast's 91 against Surrey suggested he has regained his bearings on the back of three hundreds in four Second XI outings.
If truth be told, however, this was a glorious opportunity squandered to record successive centuries on his return to first team duties. A brief lapse in otherwise unwavering application gave the medium pace of Jason Roy a rare scalp and allowed Surrey to claim a share of the spoils after an intriguing day's cricket.
This was the calibre of innings that Kent, in appointing him as Rob Key's deputy at the start of the year, had expected Northeast to play on a regular basis. Yet the brisk headway made by Surrey, furnished by a half-century of his own by Sam Billings, was checked by Stuart Meaker, another reinstatee, who, much like Northeast, had plenty to prove.
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A glance at the scorecard may not suggest Meaker deserves particularly praise in what was a collective effort by Surrey in muggy conditions - all six bowlers were rewarded in the wickets column - but for a bowler whose career has hit a roadblock, to return with such vivacity was laudable. The roar of delight which greeted both his two wickets could have been heard as far as Kennington.
Those cries came in more relief as much as anything else. Northeast and then Billings played with consummate application and control in negating the pace generated by Meaker and the equally lively Matt Dunn. Indeed, Key can testify that the bowlers extracted plenty of zip from a pitch that had a covering of green and no shortage of bounce.
Facing his first delivery in the opening over of the match, Dunn squared the Kent captain up, and struck him in the groin, forcing Key to retire hurt despite valiant efforts to brush the pain aside. A brief visit to Royal Surrey County Hospital confirmed everything was still in place and by the time he gingerly returned to the middle late in the day, his side had hardly missed him.
Northeast was particularly strong through the offside, rocking back to punch anything short of a length and wide enough through the covers. He raced through the gears initially but was reeled thereafter, showing a level of application and tenacity that was questioned before his dropping. He profited on anything loose and successive boundaries of Zafar Ansari brought him within touching distance of a masterly hundred.
But Surrey struck just when Kent had threatened to pull away. Brendan Nash was brilliantly stumped by Gary Wilson off Gareth Batty before lunch and then Ben Harmison, having lived a charmed existence for 48, missed a straight one from Dunn after the interval. Northeast played all around an otherwise unthreatening delivery from Roy to be struck in front.
Meaker's last appearance was in the corresponding fixture at the beginning of May and in the intervening period he had no reservation in voicing his disillusionment on Twitter. Forced to bide his time until being thrown the ball in the tenth over, there was no sign of the uncertainty or lack of form that led to him being disregarded as he struck instantly to remove Daniel Bell-Drummond. His second wicket shortly before tea, finding the edge of the dangerous Stevens for 34, was a throwback to the bowler who first caught an England selector's eye.
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