Northeast knock leaves match in balance
Essex 164 and 66 for 3 require a further 127 to beat Kent 193 and 163 (Northeast 77, Masters 4-45)
Essex launched a fine recovery to leave themselves slight favourites to beat Kent in their County Championship Division Two duel at Chelmsford. After being left a target of 193, they reached the close on 66 for 3, a position of promise that seemed highly unlikely after they had resumed the second day on 67 for 6 in reply to their opponents first innings total of 193.
When Essex lost another wicket with only two runs added, it seemed they would finish well adrift. But they were revived by Graham Napier's contribution of 57 from 40 deliveries. All those runs came during a stand of 80 in 12 overs before he sliced a shot to third man where Sam Northeast took a fine diving catch.
Napier struck seven fours and a six and keeping him company was Jaik Mickleburgh who was to make 46 before he was ninth out. Darren Stevens and Matt Coles finished with four wickets each as Essex closed 29 runs adrift of their opponents on 163.
On a pitch which again favoured swing and seam, Kent lost both openers within the first five overs of their second innings. Joe Denly fell without a run on the board, to Jamie Porter, before Daniel-Bell Drummond gave James Foster the first of his four catches in the innings.
The visitors were indebted to Northeast for their second-innings effort of 163. While wickets fell around him at regular intervals, he produced some punishing drives to anchor the innings. He struck ten boundaries before Greg Smith trapped him lbw on the stroke of tea. Northeast's main support came from Darren Stevens whose 36 from as many deliveries came during a fifth-wicket half-century partnership after the pair had started their liaison with their side 49 for 4.
David Masters, who was responsible for Kent's early troubles, finished with 4 for 45 while Smith returned 3 for 22.
When they set off in pursuit of victory, Essex quickly lost Tom Westley for a duck, bowled by Ivan Thomas, before Nick Browne and Mickleburgh raised the 50. Having added 57 in 13 overs for the second wicket, both were to depart shortly before the close. A magnificent catch by Sam Billings accounted for Browne after he had made 25 while a slip catch by Matt Coles saw off Mickleburgh for 23 to end his hour's stay at the crease.
Mitch Claydon was the successful bowler on both occasions but Essex were to steer clear of further trouble in the remaining four overs to leave a tense third day in prospect.
"Those two wicket towards the close has put us right back in it and the game is very evenly poised," Claydon said. "It's up to us to put the ball in the right areas more consistently to go on and win the match and I think we can do that if we nick a couple of early wickets in the morning. One thing is for certain and that is that batsmen will have to battle hard for every run - it's that sort of pitch."
Napier said: "We have ended the day with our noses in front and that's a position we would have settled for considering how we started the day. It's a pitch where runs are not easy to come by but I decided to adopt a positive approach and it worked to help us get near their total. But we still face plenty of hard work ahead if we are to get a victory."