Bell-Drummond, Northeast tons defy Hampshire
Kent 312 for 3 (Bell-Drummond 135*, Northeast 115*) v Hampshire
At a time when the relevance of some smaller counties is being considered, what a delight it was to see two young, homegrown English batsman doing most of the batting on day one for Kent. The county have afforded their academy products opportunities and here Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sam Northeast, with his third consecutive century, continued to repay that faith by putting their side into a very strong position.
Bell-Drummond, 21, and Northeast, three years older, were identified as prodigies at a young age and both served England Under-19s impressively (the 2012 World Cup aside, in Bell-Drummond's case). Kent are yet to see the best of them but they are among several young players, brought forward by the club out of financial necessity, who are showing the value of investment in an academy system. Yorkshire have proved what is possible.
This is Bell-Drummond's year. His century on day one, his highest first-class score, brought him within touching distance of reaching 1000 runs in a season for the first time. It was his second ton of the summer, after his first in the Championship against Derbyshire in June. That effort, which contained only 11 boundaries, was similar to this in requiring careful play on a pitch lacking pace - it is in the centre of the square close to the international pitches, showing similar characteristics to the Test match surface. Kent will hope another academy product, offspinner Adam Riley, will enjoy conditions later in the match.
Bell-Drummond struck 16 fours in this century, reached from 227 balls. One was his only moment of real initiative against the spinners, after tea, when he skipped down to lift Liam Dawson over mid-on. He did it again to move into the 90s. Another boundary from a spinner - this time an Imran Tahir full toss whacked through midwicket - took him to 99. There he spent an awkward 12 deliveries, including a quicker one from Tahir that nearly sneaked past a nervous forward defense, before gaining his satisfaction.
Kent's youth policy has resulted in only one serious challenge for promotion since being relegated in 2010. But it was during healthier times that Northeast was first selected, in 2007. He has yet to fully realise the potential that saw Kent send a coach to Harrow to save him travelling to Canterbury himself. His 880 runs at 55.00 in 2012 has not been built on and this season could be another without reaching 1000 runs.
But the Royal London Cup revived his season and he is enjoying his new role at No.5. Following 406 runs at 45.11 in 50-over cricket were successive Championship centuries against Glamorgan and then Essex.
Like Bell-Drummond's, his innings was one of circumspection; the run-rate for much of the day stayed below three an over, with the wicket becoming slower throughout the day. Northeast's best stroke came after he went past fifty in 121 balls: a thumping straight drive off Chris Wood. He was more aggressive against the spinners than his partner. A slog sweep for six off Dawson forced the bowler to rethink his line of attack to a more defensive 4-5 leg-side split. Northeast cared little for the extra protection and stepped out of his ground again to flick between short midwicket and mid-on. He became more fluent as the day progressed.
The pair shared a double-century stand and comfortably played their way through the second new ball as Hampshire went two sessions without taking a wicket. Their attack missed Kyle Abbott, away with South African franchise Dolphins at the Champions League T20, who has taken 36 wickets at 20.33 this season. Abbott has played a major part in setting up Hampshire's promotion run but they will have to finish the job without him.
In place of Abbott, they have parachuted in Tahir, the South Africa legspinner, for the final two matches but here he proved the most expensive of the main attack and picked up a warning for running on the pitch. His most threatening spell came after Bell-Drummond had reached his century, finding a thin edge that flashed past slip's left hand. In the same over another edge, this from Northeast, evaded slip to his right. Trapping Brendan Nash lbw to bring about an early lunch was his only success.
This time last year, Matt Coles was on loan at Hampshire having decided to leave his home county, Kent. Here, he justified his new role with the new ball for Hampshire with two wickets in his opening spell. Both victims have endured poor Championship seasons. Rob Key and Ben Harmison have just five scores over fifty between them in 50 innings. Key was cleaned up by Coles' second ball of the match and four overs later Harmison gave a catch to Dawson at second slip. But Kent went on to dominate the day. It could prove a poor toss for Hampshire to have lost.
Alex Winter is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo He tweets here