Northeast for England! But is anybody listening?
Kent 304 and 413 for 5 (Northeast 173*) lead Sussex 291 by 426 runs
"Northeast for England!" It's one thing for Kent fans to chant for their captain (and, to be fair to them, they've been singing that for a while). But when those chants are coming from his own dressing room, it does strike a different note. As Sussex slinked off when bad light ended play, Kent's players, with a 426-run-lead in their step, were in full voice. They, more so than the fans, are annoyed he has been overlooked for as long as he has.
Sam Northeast, a decorated youth cricketer, an England Lion and a regular "well what about" selection in many an England XI thrashed out over beer-soaked tables, must be close to the real thing. And it's innings like today - a barbaric, unbeaten 173, which saw him race to 37 from 23 balls to quell Sussex's early attack, before bringing up three figures in 123 balls - that will push him close to the front of the queue. It was his 17th first-class hundred and, remarkably, it is hard to peg this as his most devastating.
Naturally, Northeast was fairly chilled about England talk, happy to let his record do the talking - 1,474 Championship runs since the start of 2016 at an average of 77.6, if you're wondering. "There are a lot of people in my position around the counties," he said. Kent seamer Mitchell Claydon, within earshot, interjected: "Not with 18,000 effing runs in a year-and-a-half,". Northeast laughed: "See what I have to put up with?"
Considering Northeast's hot streak started during his first full season as club captain and that his role at Kent is wide-ranging - he plays a prominent role in team meetings, player contracts and overseas recruitment - it says a lot about his character that the extra distractions seem to have focused his work out in the middle.
During the North-South series in the UAE, in which he scored a century in the second match, he had chats with Andy Flower and England assistant coach Paul Farbrace. There was a chance for a catch-up with Flower today: the ECB technical director was at Hove and spent time talking to Kent's coach Matt Walker. Northeast, of course, was otherwise occupied.
His England claim is not just limited to one format. Recently, he has been one of the standout domestic Twenty20 batsmen in the world. Across the last two seasons in the T20 Blast, he has scored 1,103 runs at an average of 40.9. It is telling, too, that when analysts involved in recruitment for franchises across the world crunch the numbers in search of the most valued picks, Northeast's name often makes an appearance.
But, for now, the England Test side need a middle order batsman. And as well as Northeast's free-scoring nature aligning with Trevor Bayliss's blueprint for the Test side, he would also bring with him a knack for big runs. Including today, his last six Championship hundreds have all exceeded 160. He does not have a double hundred to his name - 191 against Derbyshire and 190 against Sussex, both last season, are as close as he has come - but looked like he was on the way to addressing in the final session on Sunday, hitting two sixes and a four in the last four balls of the day to take him to 173 off 181 balls.
He shared a stand of 123 with opener Sean Dickson which put Sussex in their place and then one of 161 inside 27 overs with Darren Stevens (71) that whipped them into submission. Sussex, a bowler and ideas light, simply had to accept the punishment that was being dished out. Together, Stevens and Northeast put on 52 off the last five overs.
But without Dickson's patience, Kent would be a long way from the position they currently occupy. His grafting 68 gave Darren Stevens and Wayne Parnell a platform for their 123-run stand in the first innings. Disappointed he was not able to convert that to three figures on day one, it looked like he would get there in the second innings.
He was in complete control, knocking the ball about diligently to get to 89 but, again, fell short after being trapped in front by Ajmal Shahzad. When you consider he suffered a recurrence of the hamstring injury that kept him out of the opening fixture against Gloucestershire, it was a remarkable effort from the 25-year-old. Just as every good band needs a reliable bassist, Dickson's calm and diligence allowed the more flamboyant around him to flourish.
It's still a good pitch, as Northeast and Stevens showed by the way they were able to hit through the line so well. "It would be nice if it was a bit cloudy in the morning," said Northeast. "We've got a good bowling line-up here, with good variations and we'll try a few things out there tomorrow."
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport