Last-wicket stand rescues Warwickshire
Kent 37 for 3 v Warwickshire 294
If Kent go on to suffer relegation this season, they will surely rue the first day of this Championship match at Edgbaston.
With Warwickshire on the ropes, Martin van Jaarsveld, at slip, spurned a chance offered by Imran Tahir off the bowling of James Tredwell. The batsman had just 18 at the time and, had it been taken, Warwickshire would have been dismissed for 195.
It wasn't the easiest chance. But van Jaarsveld seemed to have it within his grasp and, had he been able to cling on, Warwickshire would have finished without a batting bonus point for the fourth match in succession and the eighth time in 11 games.
As it was, however, the momentum of the game shifted. Warwickshire's tenth-wicket pair of Tahir and Ant Botha added 118 in 25 overs. Their stand transformed a day that Kent had, to that point, utterly dominated and Warwickshire - and Chris Woakes, in particular - hit back strongly with the new ball when Kent began their innings. It's far from impossible that it could prove to have been a defining day in the battle to avoid relegation.
This is certainly going to prove a crucial match. The two teams started the game level on points with only Essex below them in the table. While Kent have a game in hand over Warwickshire, neither side can afford to give the other any ground. Warwickshire, in particular, need to win.
Any hopes of victory had all but receded when they were reeling at 107 for 7 shortly after lunch. The brittle top-order batting that has proved their Achilles heel all season haunted them yet again as their batsmen struggled against the swinging ball and their own lack of form and confidence.
Darren Stevens was the unlikely destroyer. With Kent missing Amjad Khan, who has reacted to news of the club's inability to keep him by saying he didn't feel in the right frame of mind to play for them, Stevens took the new ball and bowled throughout the morning session. That admirable 15-over spell realised 3 for 30, with Stevens swinging the ball consistently and compensating for his gentle pace with a probing line and length.
If Ian Westwood, reaching for one without moving his feet, and Varun Chopra, who played around a straight one, had some cause to regret their strokes, there was little Darren Maddy could do about the ball that dismissed him. Pitching on middle, it demanded the forward defensive shot he offered, but swung away late to take the outside edge. It was fine bowling, by any standards.
Meanwhile Jim Troughton, who has now not passed 50 in 26 championship innings, and Richard Johnson prodded pad-first at a straight one, before Rikki Clarke changed his mind about pulling and top-edged a simple chance back to the bowler. Laurie Evans, who was released by Surrey a few weeks ago and is on trial at Edgbaston, resisted for over an hour, but them appeared to lose sight of a full delivery and was bowled.
From that low point, however, Warwickshire began to regroup. With resistance first mustered by Woakes and Botha, their last three wickets added a further 187 runs, earning their side two bonus points and a foothold in a game that had almost slipped away from them.
Though Woakes was beaten by a sharp off-break and Neil Carter steered a wide one to point, Botha and Tahir counter-attacked intelligently against an attack that was left looking a little one-paced and lacking in variation.
It wasn't just the runs that were scored as the manner in which they were scored that so upset Kent. Tahir, who has been dismissed for a duck five times in this Championship season, has few pretensions as a batsman, but here went after the bowling with such relish that he hit seven fours and four sixes in his 72-ball stay.
While two of those sixes, pulls off Tredwell, were somewhat agricultural, the others, a cover-drive off the medium-pace of Simon Cook and a clipped six over long-on off Tredwell, were almost classical. It was the third first-class half-century of his career and his first for Warwickshire.
Botha's was a more polished performance. While this was his first half-century of the campaign, he showed his pedigree by negated the swinging ball by playing admirably straight and timing the ball sweetly. Together they set a new 10th wicket record stand for Warwickshire against Kent, surpassing the 73 posted by HJ Pallett & T Forrester at The Angel Ground, Tonbridge, in 1897.
It's far from the first time this season that Warwickshire have been grateful for the lower-order's runs. Indeed, their tenth-wicket pair have recorded more century and half-century stands than the first-wicket partnership. It is often remarked upon around these parts that the hosts sometimes appear to be batting in reverse order.
Botha and Tahir pair may yet go on to play a large part with the ball. This game is being played on the same pitch used for Monday's CB40 game against Scotland and Warwickshire expect it to encourage the spinners appreciably.
The tail-end resistance appeared to knock Kent's confidence. Not only did they drop Tahir once again, this time when he had 61, but their ground fielding became ragged and their heads appeared to drop.
Confronted by Woakes, now bowling with a bit more pace but no less control or swing, they were soon in trouble when they began their reply and resume on the second day with Tredwell, their second nightwatchman, at the crease.
Joe Denly, leaving one that nipped back, was bowled by the first ball of the innings, while Rob Key played around another swinging delivery in Woakes' next over. Cook, perhaps unlucky with some low bounce, also missed one that nipped back.
With batsmen as accomplished as van Jaarsveld and Stevens still to come, there is a great deal of cricket left to play in this match. But Kent have already squandered a golden opportunity to put this match - and their relegation fears - to one side and their failure to take it may come back to haunt them.