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Birmingham, April 11 - 14, 2019, Specsavers County Championship Division One
(T:123) 504/9d & 124/2
(fo) 346 & 280

Kent won by 8 wickets


Zak Crawley's classy century puts Kent on top

Batsman Crawley and bowler Brookes show more than a hint of good things to come

George Dobell
George Dobell
Zak Crawley drives off the back foot

Zak Crawley drives off the back foot  •  Getty Images

Kent 367 for 5 (Crawley 108, Kuhn 72, Robinson 59*) v Warwickshire
It's often said - and it's often said correctly - that these early season Championship games provide little value in the production of Test cricketers.
All too often such matches are defined by the seam-friendly surfaces on which they are played and dominated by medium-paced bowlers who exploit those conditions. It can be entertaining, certainly, but it doesn't bear much comparison with conditions prevalent in Test cricket.
But on a fine, straw-coloured surface a young batsman from Kent and a young bowler from Warwickshire not only fought out an enjoyable battle for control of this game, but provided encouragement for the future of England's Test team.
On the day, the battle was won by Zak Crawley. In producing the second first-class century of his career, the 21-year-old provided notice of both his ability and strength of mind in helping his side to a strong position in the match.
The first thing you notice about Crawley is his height. Standing at six foot, six inches he clearly has the reach to smother deliveries others cannot and a pleasing ability to deal - usually dismissively - with the short ball. But it is, perhaps, the straightness of his play and judgement over which balls to leave which marks him out as slightly unusual in the day and age of the dasher.
He can play, elegantly, off front and back foot and has both a range of stroke and patience that bode well for his future. Those who know him at Kent talk of his ambition and, while it is premature of talk of an England call-up, James Taylor, watching on in his role as an England selector, can only have been impressed.
While the figures hardly suggest it, Henry Brookes was almost as encouraging. Aged just 19 and playing the seventh first-class game of his career, he was the quickest of Warwickshire's attack and, in generating swing and bounce, underlined the huge hopes his club have of him.
Given just a little fortune, he would have dismissed Crawley for 46. The ball he produced, demanding a stroke and leaving the batsman late, was pretty much perfect. But Dom Sibley, at second slip, was unable to cling on to a tough, low chance which may not quite have reached him. It may yet prove to be a pivotal moment in the game. Sibley also dropped Darren Stevens, on 14, in the dying moments of the day.
That moment apart, the only other time Crawley appeared troubled was as he neared his century. The nerves clearly began to tell as the milestone approach and it wasn't a complete surprise when, shortly after reaching it (from 165 balls with 17 fours), he was caught behind off the inside edge as Jeetan Patel gained just a little turn to take advantage of an uncharacteristic gate between bat and pad.
There were half-centuries, too, from Heino Kuhn and Ollie Robinson. While Kuhn's was no surprise - he has played international cricket, after all - 20-year-old Robinson lost little by comparison. This was easily his best innings at this level to date and, in timing the ball sweetly, he suggested he could enjoy a long career at this level.
Warwickshire may feel they could have bowled tighter. While their bowlers beat the edge on several occasions - once the first new ball went out of shape and was replaced by one that swung, anyway - there were a few too many release deliveries to build any meaningful pressure.
There were moments when they seemed to get it all together - not least in a spell when they claimed three for 35 in mid-afternoon - but a stand of 119 for the fifth-wicket between Kuhn and Robinson ensured that Kent could look back on their decision to bat first - something of a rarity at this time of year - with satisfaction.
Earlier Sean Dickson poked one to gully, Matt Renshaw was drawn into driving one that left him sharply - Craig Miles' first Championship wicket for his new team - and Daniel Bell-Drummond edged one that left him slightly. Kent wore black armbands throughout the day in honour of Bell-Drummond's older brother, Paul, who died on Wednesday after an illness.
With Warwickshire suffering from something of an injury epidemic, they recalled Tom Milnes, a seamer they had released in 2015. Milnes subsequently joined Derbyshire but was also released by them in 2017. He had trials at a few counties in 2018 - and played a few games for Sussex seconds - but is now with Warwickshire on a match-by-match basis.
He may win more opportunities in the coming weeks. Chris Woakes will play a one-day game for the seconds next week, but is not expected to play any first-class cricket ahead of the World Cup, while Olly Stone has just been cleared to start his rehabilitation after sustaining a stress fracture and is not expected to be available until mid-season. Aaron Thomason, who would have played here but for a pectoral injury, is out for between four to six weeks, with Liam Norwell out for roughly the same amount of time.
There were some familiar faces at Edgbaston, too. With a book - The Greatest Season, by Pat Murphy - being launched to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Warwickshire's treble-winning season, several of that team's players were gathered to mark the occasion and hold a Q&A session with supporters. Those involved included the likes of Dermot Reeve, Gladstone Small and Asif Din. Ashley Giles, at the time a junior member of the Warwickshire staff, but now the director of England's men's teams, came along to sit quietly at the back and listen.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo