Old dog Stevens bares his teeth on new contract
Kent 389 for 7 (Stevens 107*, Denly 74, Northeast 56) v Essex
Kent beneficiary Darren Stevens hit an unbeaten century in what could transpire to be his final game for the county as the hosts posted 389 for 7 on the second day of their Specsavers County Championship clash with Essex.
After a first day wash-out and an uncontested toss, the 40-year-old all-rounder - whose contract expires at the end of the match - hit a typically belligerent unbeaten 107 to give his side the edge in this contest between the top two sides in the second tier.
Sam Northeast and Joe Denly also posted half-centuries as the hosts racked up four batting bonus points, leaving them to secure one more point from this final-round game in order to clinch second place, and with it the ECB's prize money of almost £57,000.
Stevens, who went into this final round game in the midst of protracted talks over a new contract, said: "There was a bit of anger, frustration and disappointment in that knock today, but I'm delighted we've almost got to 400 as a team, that we've virtually secured second place and we're now in a good position to go on and win the game.
"I love this place and I don't want to go anywhere else, so my hope is that we can sort something out because I feel I've still got two years left in me. I still have passion for the club and for these lads and I want to be successful, so we'll have to see what happens.
"I always love scoring runs and get more satisfaction from scoring runs being that Kent signed me as a batsman. I've obviously turned myself into a bit of an all-rounder in the meantime, but my main job is to get runs and the past couple of months have been pretty enjoyable in that regard.
"This summer for our batters has been exceptional and we're all pretty much close to 1,000 runs now. I got a bit edgy against the second new ball because it was sliding on and dong a little bit more in the air. But I backed myself to play my shots and got over the line to my hundred in the last over."
Batting first on a pitch that spent much of Tuesday morning under wraps, Kent lost their first wicket after an hour's play but only three overs after umpires Russ Evans and Graham Lloyd had changed the misshapen original ball.
Having hit seven fours in an attractive 32, Daniel Bell-Drummond threw all but the kitchen sink into a wide cover drive against Will Rhodes, only to edge to slip where Varun Chopra took a sharp, overhead catch.
Fellow opener Sean Dickson (16) soon followed when he nicked a defensive push at a Matt Dixon leg-cutter to be caught behind by a tumbling Adam Wheater to make it 50 for 2.
Home skipper Northeast posted 109 for the third wicket with Denly within 25.1 overs either side of lunch. Denly posted his fourth championship half-century from 98 balls with eight fours, while Northeast reached his third 50 from 70 deliveries and with seven boundaries.
Moments later Northeast's late decision to shoulder arms to Rhodes saw him deflect the ball onto his own stumps via the face of the bat and depart for 56.
Sam Billings marched in to spank a cover drive for four and pull a short one from Ravi Bopara to the ropes at square leg. But, with his score on 16, Billings' cameo ended when he missed another attempted pull against Bopara to be sent packing lbw by umpire Russ Evans.
With Kent's first batting bonus point on the board, Denly's stay for an excellent 74 ended when he nicked a back-foot force against Dixon to the keeper, then on-loan Nottinghamshire all-rounder Will Gidman fenced at Dixon's next delivery to give Wheater a third catch and Dixon, the pick of the Essex attack, a third scalp.
Stevens and James Tredwell combined to hoist a third batting bonus point courtesy of a sensible seventh-wicket stand. Essex took the second new ball in a bid to break the partnership, but Stevens lofted the third delivery with the new cherry from Dixon for six over mid-wicket to bring up his sixth 50 for 2016 from 83 balls and with seven fours.
Dixon enjoyed a fourth success and ended the stand for 108 by snaring Tredwell for 39. The ball after having Tredwell dropped behind, Dixon snapped one back off the seam to trap the left-hander lbw.
With Essex flagging, Stevens unfurled his big drives and cuts to reach an 83-ball 50 off Dixon with a six over mid-wicket, then mark his 125 ball century - the 31st of his first-class career - with a flat-bat six over backward point off Paul Walter. The veteran hit 13 fours and three sixes.