All-round Stevens carries Kent
Essex 67 for 6 (Stevens 3-23) trail Kent 193 (Stevens 50, Ryder 5-43) by 126 runs
Essex and Kent found themselves locked in an intriguing duel as they battled for supremacy on the opening day of their Division Two clash at Chelmsford.
On a greenish pitch on which bowlers found plenty of encouragement, the visitors were bowled out for 193 in 68.5 overs after they had been put in, to which Essex replied with 67 for 6.
Seam and swing were the dominant forces as Jesse Ryder underlined as he once again his liking for Kent batsmen. Last season he claimed 10 wickets in the match at Canterbury and his latest haul of 5 for 43 in 18 overs helped explained why Kent found run-gathering a difficult task.
He destroyed the top and middle orders, starting by having Robert Key lbw for 18 at a time when he and Daniel Bell-Drummond were just promising a decent partnership following the early loss of Joe Denly. On his return to Kent from Middlesex, Denly made 3 before edging Jamie Porter to wicketkeeper James Foster.
Among Ryder's other victims was the evergreen Darren Stevens, now a few days short of his 39th birthday, but still a formidable foe. He was the one man to bat with any fluency as he struck eight fours and a six, that blow coming off Greg Smith, on his way to 50 from 88 deliveries.
Stevens wasted no opportunity in punishing the loose delivery but two balls after completing his fine half-century, was ninth out when trapped lbw. In contrast, Bell-Drummond needed 84 balls to reach 30 before he edged David Masters to Nick Browne in the slips.
Porter and Smith provided the main back-up to Ryder with two wickets each but Kent were to hit back so strongly that they ended the day in the ascendancy.
Essex lost half their side for 60, with Tom Westley and Browne departing to successive deliveries. First, Westley found the hands of Denly in the gully to provide Matt Coles with a success with the last ball of the seventh over and with the first of the next, Ivan Thomas breached Browne's defences to leave the home side 19 for two.
Then the irrepressible Stevens was to confirm what a fine all-rounder he is. With his first delivery, he removed 17-year-old Dan Lawrence lbw and after James Foster gave a return catch to Coles, he bowled Ryder.
That prompted Essex to send in Porter as nightwatchman for the remaining five overs but he failed to survive, departing in the final over of the day when he was snapped up in the slip cordon by Fabian Cowdrey. It was that man Stevens who claimed the wicket to finish the day with figures of 3 for 23 from seven overs.
Much will now depend on Jaik Mickleburgh if Essex are to mount a serious challenge to Kent's modest total. He reached the close on 20, an effort which has so far lasted nearly an hour and a half and consumed 58 deliveries with just one boundary.