Key and Tredwell make Kiwis toil
Kent 324 for 1 (Key 178*, Tredwell 123*) v New Zealanders
If the venue is Canterbury, and there's a touring side in town, you can bet your life that Robert Key will be there to ensure that their stay is as uncomfortable as possible. Kent's captain has an agenda this season - he wants to reclaim the England Test place that he vacated four seasons ago - and today, by smearing the star-shorn New Zealanders for 178 not out from 260 balls, he made the biggest statement that the occasion could allow him.
The New Zealand team may not be at full strength just yet, with five senior players away at the Indian Premier League, but aside from the stabilising influence of Daniel Vettori, the attack they put together was not dissimilar to the one that will represent them at Lord's in the first Test on May 15. Either way, it made no difference to Key, whose record against touring opposition is phenomenal.
The Kiwis in particular know about his abilities, having been dispatched for twin innings of 114 and 117 not out during a nine-wicket defeat in the corresponding fixture four years ago. Key has also helped himself to a pair of hundreds against Pakistan - for Kent in 2001 and again, as captain of England A, in 2006, in addition to his solitary Test century - a memorable 221 against West Indies at Lord's in 2004.
Batting with poise and aggression, and quick to latch onto any width, Key cracked 27 fours in a six-hour stay, and offered just one chance when, on 43, he edged the teenaged seamer, Tim Southee, through Peter Fulton's hands at second slip. One over later, Key pulled Southee through midwicket for four - his sixth boundary of the morning - to bring up his fifty, and he didn't look back after that.
"There was a bit of déjà vu," said Chris Martin, who also faced Key in the 2004 fixture. "I've probably only bowled to him here, and I've only seen the best of him, because he tends to bring out his A game against New Zealand which is frustrating. We created a few opportunities but we didn't take them.
"It's a pretty soft wicket so it was a good hard slog for a guy like myself," said Martin. "Hopefully as the game goes on, our batters will get more out of it than I did. I've had a month off now, and this is the first competitive day I've had for a while, so it was important to build into it gradually, rather than hitting it too hard."
As New Zealand eased into their rhythm, Kent's batsmen capitalised to the fullest extent. James Tredwell is better known as an offspinner, but since making his maiden first-class hundred against Yorkshire at Tunbridge Wells last summer, Kent have been keen to develop his allround potential by pushing him up the order. He deputised as an opener against Sussex last week, when Key was ruled out with a debilitating virus, and he appeared at No. 3 today, following Joe Denly's dismissal to a blinding catch from James Marshall at backward point.
By the close, Tredwell was still there on a career-best 123 not out. It was his second first-class hundred, and a timely one as well, seeing as he could well feature in the four-day England Lions match against the tourists on May 8. The pair had added 299 for the second wicket at stumps, eclipsing Kent's record against New Zealand touring sides - the 277 added by Frank Woolley and Les Ames in 1931.
Like Key, Tredwell was named in the England Performance Squad last week, having joined the one-day side on the tour to New Zealand in February. He began his innings as Key's understudy, but grew in stature as the afternoon wore on. He brought up his half-century from 110 balls with an elegant back-foot drive through point off Grant Elliott, and having gone to tea on 67 not out, his century followed as New Zealand's bowlers toiled in the final session of an arduous day.
"Tredwell's played well last week in tough conditions, and he's a well-organised player," said Key. "We try to sneak him up the order whenever we can and, to be fair, he's taken his chance. As well as helping Kent out, it helps his development and his chances of playing for England, because as we've seen in the past, that spinner who can bat a bit is a rare beast."
Even allowing for their absentees, it was a tough initiation for New Zealand, who maintained their discipline but rarely looked threatening on a flat and low deck. The only man to take a wicket was Southee, who was playing in his first first-class match outside of his home country, although Martin came close in the final session with a delivery that clipped Tredwell's off stump but failed to dislodge the bail.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo