Threadbare Kent toil hard for Key
Northamptonshire 268 for 5 (Boje 77*) v Kent
With more than half his first-choice side injured or absent and with two debutant bowlers on the team sheet, home captain Rob Key raised a few eyebrows by bowling first in near ideal batting conditions at the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury.
Quirky and innovative as a skipper, Key must have regretted his decision when Northamptonshire, making their first four-day visit here for five years, sidled into lunch looking strong on 98 for 1. But, to their credit, Key and his weakened attack plugged away through the last two sessions to pick up four more wickets and end their first ever day in County Championship Division Two in reasonable shape.
The major stumbling block for Key & Co was the diminutive South Africa left-hander Nicky Boje whose unbeaten 77 was the class innings of the opening day. He drove five crisp fours, clipped a straight six into the sightscreen against offspinner James Tredwell and never looked troubled by what is a makeshift Kent attack.
With no overseas option following Stuart Clark's late international call-up, and without the injured Amjad Khan, Simon Cook and Robbie Joseph, it hampered the home cause further that Ryan McLaren is away playing in the IPL and that fellow all-rounder Justin Kemp only arrived in the country this morning after visa delays and was unable to play in this game.
The home side gave a debut to Steffan Jones, on loan from Somerset, and 25-year-old Cambridge Blue Phil Edwards, a willowy pace bowler who became the first Kent cricketer to hail from the Isle of Sheppey, yet Key still elected to bowl.
They had one wicket to celebrate in the morning session when the left-handed Ben Howgego (18) drove airily at Azhar Mahmood's fourth delivery to edge to second slip, but other than that Northamptonshire cantered along at 3.4 an over.
Kent re-grouped during the interval and hit back shortly after the re-start with two wickets in consecutive overs. Stephen Peters (32) nicked the eighth ball after lunch to the keeper to give Jones the first scalp for his fourth county then, eight balls later, Rob White (41) misjudged the length when attempting to pull against Mahmood and went leg before to make it 100 for 3.
After a change of ball, the experimental Tiflex type went out of shape after 43 overs, Martin Saggers returned to have Riki Wessels (27) caught behind off an out-swinger. Boje and Andrew Hall combined in another all-South African partnership to add 72 for the fifth wicket before Hall went in the last over with the old ball. Well forward and driving outside the line against an off- cutter from Darren Stevens, Hall was sent packing leg before.
Though Kent delayed taking the new ball, neither Jones or Mahmood could fashion another breakthrough and Boje will resume on day two with his sights set firmly on a century.