Essex take charge at Chelmsford
Essex take charge at Chelmsford

Simon Harmer bowled almost unchanged from noon to dusk while taking three for 72 from 35 overs as Essex claimed a considerable first-innings lead at Chelmsford.

Kent crept along to 182 all out from 89 overs at the close on day two of the Specsavers County Championship match, still 131 runs behind Essex’s 313 all out

Kent had found scoring difficult all day. Their run-rate hovered around the two-an-over mark for much of the innings. It took 50 overs to reach three-figures, while the fifth-wicket partnership between Daniel Bell-Drummond and Ollie Robinson added just 19 in 12 overs.

By way of contrast, Essex had rattled along at the comparatively express rate of three an over in posting 313 in their first innings.

Essex’s four-man attack nagged away from the start, threatening with nearly every ball. Jamie Porter and Sam Cook set the tone from the start, nipping the ball around, while Peter Siddle and Harmer found bounce and lift at their different speeds and took three wickets each. Siddle took three for 29.

All four bowlers were indebted to the safe hands of Michael Pepper. The 20-year-old, playing for the first time this season after an appendix operation, took five catches behind the stumps, though he did require treatment just before the close after a ball from Porter slipped through his gloves and into his face.

It was not until the first ball of the fifth over that Kent put runs on the board, Joe Denly turning Porter through the offside for four. The second scoring stroke, a cover-drive from Denly, came off the 53rd ball of the innings. Zak Crawley, meanwhile, finally got off the mark from the 28th ball he faced.

In between, Sean Dickson, who scored a century and ninety against Surrey last week, managed faced just six dots balls before he edged Porter to Harmer at second slip.

Cook finished with two for 28 from 16.2 overs, but deserved better for his efforts. He had 6-5-4-0 from his opening spell before Harmer replaced him and promptly took two wickets. Denly looked to drive and nicked behind for 20 from 49 balls, and Crawley’s 67-ball stay for 15 ended when he popped a ball round the corner to Ravi Bopara at leg slip.

Siddle found plenty of life in the pitch after lunch, beating the bat at various heights but continually failing to find the edge. However, Heino Kuhn was almost cut in half by one that came back on him and did catch the outside of his bat. The South African stood his ground as the ball nestled in Pepper’s gloves until the umpire’s finger confirmed his departure.

Cook came back during the afternoon and had Bell-Drummond repeatedly playing and missing – just as he had Crawley at the start. He finally gained his reward with a ball that jumped up on Bell-Drummond and was caught behind. The Kent No4 had faced 82 balls for his 28.

Robinson came out after tea and promptly launched Harmer over long-on for a six that was totally out of context with what had gone before. But he didn’t last much longer, trapped on his crease swatting at a short ball from Porter that gave Pepper another catch. Robinson’s 22 had taken 85 balls, and Kent were 127 for six from 63 overs.

Siddle replaced Porter immediately and with the second ball of his new spell had Darren Stevens cutting airily outside off-stump and arrowing the ball straight into Bopara’s hands at backward point.

Bopara was back at leg slip one over later to snaffle Wiaan Mulder and give Harmer his third wicket. Harry Podmore followed an inswinger from Siddle to guide the ball through to Pepper for catch No5.

But the last-wicket pair of Matt Milnes and Imran Qayyum hung around for more than an hour in compiling the highest stand of the innings (45) in taking Kent past the follow-on target. Milnes was the last man to go, bowled by Cook to the last ball of the day.

It hadn’t been any easier at the start of the day. Essex’s collapse against the new-ball, initiated the evening before, continued with Kent requiring just 32 balls to take the two remaining wickets.

Porter did not survive Podmore’s first over: the first ball was edged just short of first slip and the fourth trapped him lbw for Podmore’s 100th first-class career wicket.

Harmer thick-edged Milnes for his second boundary of the day before departing next ball, also leg before. Milnes finished with four for 61.

Once Sir Alastair Cook had gone for 125 during the evening session on the first day, Essex lost seven wickets for 38 runs from 110 balls.

Essex wicketkeeper Michael Pepper said: “It was a nice return. It was nice getting back out there and the boys bowled very well and controlled the game. All of them bowled high-class all day. All of them could have got so many more nicks, not just to me but to everyone.”

  “There was quite a lot of bounce in the wicket. There was also movement because often they were playing and missing, but the bounce ones got the wickets.

  Of the injury, Pepper said: “There was quite a lot of wobble today which at times I was struggling with, so I thought I’d try if one came through at a decent height I’d go for a reverse cup instead of going the normal way. It wasn’t the right answer. It wobbled on me and hit the top of my glove and went straight into my forehead. It wasn’t the best end to the day. I’m not sure what it’s done. There’s not too much pain at the moment.”

Kent head coach Matt Walker said: “It’s been a scrappy day. They bowled well. They stuck to their task on a wicket that offered enough though the whole day, a little bit of spin and bounce. We couldn’t seem to get going at any stage. When we seemed as if we were getting going we lost a couple of wickets and never really got into the momentum of batting today.

  “It was a dogged affair and we were never able to get the run-rate up. That was partly down to some very good bowling from them, a bit of assistance from the wicket and us losing wickets at crucial times. It was a tough day. We’d like to have been close to them, if not past them, but it’s not been the case. We’re still in the game, but we’ll need to bowl well tomorrow and bat better second time around.

  “We had no intention of trying to bat at two an over. I’m not sure really what happened, sometimes you get a way of playing in your head due to what’s happened on the pitch. Early on there were signs that it was quite helpful to the bowlers and we maybe went in our shells a bit – certainly to Harmer. It did spin a bit, but not excessively and we got ourselves into a rut and couldn’t get out of it. We lost quick wickets and they never really let us off the hook and it was hard to gain the upper hand in terms of a partnership. We kept getting stuck. We’ll learn some lessons from it and hopefully bat a bit better second time around.

  “You need someone in the top order to go on and do what Alastair [Cook] did yesterday. He really is the difference in this game. That hundred may prove to be a helluva innings in the context of the game. We had chances to get him early on; he might have nicked one, he played a missed a bit. But that’s the player he is: he got on with it and had the good fortune to make the most of his opportunity. We didn’t do that.”


 
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