Kent 145 and 138 for 2 (Crawley 61*) lead Sussex 256 (Quinn 5-54, Gilchrist 3-51, Stevens 3-64) by 27 runs
A day of modest innings and hard-won advantage in sharp air nevertheless retained the soft magic one always associates with watching cricket at Hove. This may be a cold spring rather than summer's highest feather but there was much to prompt recollection of a distant past and much to enjoy from a rich present.
Instead of John Langridge easing the ball through the covers for Sussex we had Tom Clark batting pleasantly before he was bowled round his legs by Nathan Gilchrist for 42. Instead of Stockport-born Fred Ridgway rumbling in for Kent we had young Gilchrist taking three prime wickets. Instead of that great old warrior Darren Stevens bowling medium pace we had…hang on a mo…well no matter, they were three absorbing sessions and a long evening ended with Zak Crawley unbeaten on 61 and stroking the ball around the place with the quiet assurance that betokens high class.
That Kent should have ended the day 27 runs to the good and with eight wickets in hand halfway through a match they might have already lost was also to the credit of Stevens, Gilchrist and latterly Matt Quinn, who between them shared the ten home wickets and made breakthroughs just at the point when Sussex seemed about to assert absolute dominance. Ben Brown would have settled for a 111-run lead on first innings when this game began but it is more than a statistical nicety that, though five of Brown's top six reached 20, no-one managed more than Stiaan van Zyl's 52. And having reduced Sussex to 202 for 6 when the Sussex captain was beaten by Stevens's movement off the pitch, Daniel Bell-Drummond happily left it to Quinn to take the final four wickets. Until then it had never seemed like that sort of day.
But dull orthodoxy and mere expectation have always been a provocation to this area and even conservative Hove is not as neatly separated from Brighton as once it was. As the players were warming up this morning, a man was sitting on his next-to-last legs in a shop doorway half a mile away and croaking a song of undying love, although his only audience was the can of strong lager in his hand. A couple of streets along, two women were discussing a virtual flower festival over their coffees. On Kingsway, runners and cyclists pounded out miles in their quests to achieve the idealised physiques they had once glimpsed in magazines. For the men it may have been that of Jofra Archer, whose presence has pervaded this game even when he has been merely strolling from mid-on to mid-on with his hands in his pockets or abstractedly massaging a troublesome elbow.
So perhaps it was fitting that Archer should take the first wicket of Kent's second innings when a high-class inswinger gave Graham Lloyd little option but to send Jordan Cox on his way. However, not to be upstaged by mere fame, Ollie Robinson gave another exhibition of his own gifts, conceding 12 runs off his first ten overs and claiming the wicket of Bell-Drummond for 27 when the Kent captain appeared so worn down by the bowler's accuracy that he edged a catch to Clark at third slip.
That wicket left Kent on 59 for 2 with 22 overs left in the evening session but a grey evening was illumined by Crawley, whose lofted straight drive off Garton to bring up Kent's 50 was a reminder of the talent that may yet take this game away from Sussex. It was the shot of a day that had not been starved of boundaries and a boundary eased through midwicket off Robinson was almost as good. There were also three fours, two of them reverse-swept, off Jack Carson's only over and Sussex's drum-splitting appeal for a catch down the leg side off Tom Haines' bowling in the final over of the day reflected their desperation to remove the England batsman
Crawley's innings made it a more than satisfactory day for Kent, whose faster bowlers had done well to restrict a strong Sussex batting order. In the first hour of play both Travis Head and van Zyl threatened to play match-defining innings but neither survived until lunch. Head hit four fine boundaries and was dropped at slip by Cox on 10 before the offended bowler, Stevens, took out the middleman and bowled the Australian for 20 when an attempted back cut inside-edged the ball on to off stump. Van Zyl looked just as poised when taking heavy toll of Gilchrist but the Kent seamer is a proper cricketer. Two balls after being hooked for six, a shot that brought up van Zyl's fifty, Gilchrist kept the ball up sufficiently to pitch in line and had the left-hander leg before for 52.
Should Kent leave Hove with anything more than a defeat from these four days, those wickets will be seen as the foundations of their recovery. The season is not six weeks' old yet Hove has already seen two fine games and one tense finish. By Sunday evening the ground may have another to add to its history with one's only regret being the absence of spectators to enjoy it all.