Kent bowlers destroy Durham
Kent 305 for 8 v Durham 121
So far, the Championship season has been notable for results and those who have been on the wrong end of more than they have won are already wondering how they will make up lost ground. Yet it is not yet safe to predict who may beat whom.
Kent, who slipped to the bottom of the First Division after their defeat at home to Durham last week, have come back so well that the return fixture at The Riverside may well provide them with instant revenge. At the end of day one, they lead by 184 runs, with Darren Stevens one run away from a third century of the season.
Durham's problems in a season bedevilled by injuries do not seem to be going away, moreover. Ian Blackwell, whose bowling and batting are key strengths, is missing with a calf injury that may sideline him for several weeks and now Ben Stokes, the 18-year-old whose sensational run-scoring form has been a feature of the last couple of weeks, faces a lay-off after spraining an ankle in the field.
And yet Durham's decision to bat first on what looked a decent-enough four-day strip was apparently made in the confident belief that a corner had been turned. Needless to say, all out for 121 was not the outcome envisaged.
Did Phil Mustard, in his second match as captain, misread the pitch? Given that Jack Birkenshaw, the duty pitch inspector, saw nothing untoward, it would difficult to make that argument. More likely he underestimated the influence of swing, although as a factor in shaping the course of a cricket match, of course, the movement of the ball in the air is directly related to how well the bowlers harness it and how well the batsmen counter it.
In this instance, Kent's bowlers were good, Durham's batsmen not so good. Makhaya Ntini, in his last match of his stint with the hop county, looked the class act that he is, rarely allowing his opponents the relief of a poor delivery. He took four of the wickets, although on this occasion he was outshone by Amjad Khan, who tended to bowl a little too wide of off stump initially but once he had locked his sights on the stumps became very difficult to play.
Ntini struck first, dismissing Michael di Venuto and Steve Borthwick in the space of four balls in his fifth over, a double-wicket maiden. Di Venuto pushed hard at an away-swinger and the ball flew off the edge at speed but Martin van Jaarsveld took a good catch in front of his face. Three balls later, wicketkeeper Geraint Jones pouched a thinner edge to dismiss Borthwick.
Khan followed up in the next over, bringing one back to have Kyle Coetzer leg before, and when he then produced a peach of a delivery that swung very late as Dale Benkenstein pushed through the line, inducing an edge to third slip, Durham had gone from 24 without loss to 27 for 4 in the space of 22 balls.
The 29-year-old Khan would dearly love to add to the one Test cap he has won so far and chose a good moment to show his capabilities, with England selector James Whitaker looking on. In his ninth over, he reduced the home side to 50 for 6, benefiting from Gareth Breese hitting a loose shot straight to Joe Denly at cover before Mustard misread an inswinger and was leg before offering no stroke.
Stokes, brimming with confidence after two hundreds in his last three innings, looked to have it in him to arrest the slide and one cover drive off Khan, hit with timing and authority, demonstrated his potential. But there was quality, too, in Kent's bowling today and Ntini, who bowled unchanged, produced a fine ball that found bounce and movement to have him caught at third slip.
But for late runs from Mitch Claydon and Chris Rushworth, it might have been worse still for the champions. Khan, who wrapped up the innings by trapping Steve Harmison in front, finished with 5 for 43, Ntini 4 for 53.
The injury to Stokes came early in Kent's reply, the youngster gamely giving chase to deny Rob Key a boundary but going over on his ankle as he stopped the ball just in front of the rope. Fears of a break proved unfounded, happily, but the sprain will need rest, which may rule him out of batting with a runner in the second innings.
Key and Joe Denly put on 71 for the first wicket, their progress aided by a poor opening spell from Harmison, who conceded 41 in the first four overs, including four leg-side wides, as he struggled to control his line.
Durham clawed their way back to a degree when Liam Plunkett replaced Harmison and removed both openers in his second and third overs as Key edged to third slip and Denly to second and the afternoon session ended well for the home side.
Geraint Jones hit a wide ball from Claydon straight to cover, Sam Northeast went leg before to the same bowler and Scott Borthwick took a superb catch at point off a full-blooded cut by Martin van Jaarsveld, giving Harmison the first of two wickets made possible by brilliant catches, the other by Plunkett in the gully to dismiss Alex Blake. Blake, incidentally, is the player who will give way to James Tredwell when the Kent spinner joins this match after attending the Downing Street reception for England's victorious Twenty20 team.
But from 146 for 5 at tea, Kent added 159 in the last session as Stevens took control. It was a day when aggressive strokeplay seemed to be the approach most likely to profit and Stevens is no mean exponent of such tactics. By the close he had hit 17 fours and three sixes and Kent are in a strong position.