Henry puts Kent in command
Henry puts Kent in command

Matt Henry put the skids under Gloucestershire on the third day of the Specsavers County Championship match at Bristol to raise the prospect of a fourth consecutive win for Second Division promotion contenders Kent.

In tremendous form this season, the New Zealand paceman returned figures of 6-58 as Gloucestershire, dismissed for 240 in reply to Kent’s mammoth 582-9 declared, conceded a first-innings deficit of 342.

Kent enforced the follow-on and the home side negotiated 25 overs to reach the close on 73 without loss. But they require a further 269 to avoid an innings defeat and much will depend on Chris Dent (27 not out) and Benny Howell (44 not out) when they resume their unbroken opening partnership in the morning.

Having claimed 37 victims at an average of nine in four previous outings this summer, Henry announced himself by bowling Jack Taylor and Ryan Higgins in quick succession in the morning to reduce Gloucestershire to 82-6.

But instead of folding, the home side served up stubborn resistance in the form of a dogged stand of 104 for the seventh wicket between Graeme van Buuren and Kieran Noema-Barnett.

Once the shine had left the ball and Henry had been removed from the attack, these two held sway for 42 overs, both registering half centuries to at least make a game of it.

The advent of the second new ball was always likely to be decisive, and so it proved as the returning Henry summoned a burst of 4-9 in 27 balls to summarily end lower-order resistance.

All-rounder van Buuren was eyeing three figures when he fended a rising delivery to second slip, having contributed 83 from 145 balls with 10 fours. Henry then removed Craig Miles and George Drissell with consecutive deliveries and went close to completing a hat-trick, Matt Taylor removing his bat in the nick of time.

His style ideally-suited to English conditions, Henry has claimed 43 of the 85 wickets taken by Kent bowlers in red-ball cricket this summer.

Taylor was last out, caught at the wicket off Harry Podmore, leaving the indomitable Noema-Barnett unbeaten on 73. He had faced 185 balls and accrued nine fours in an innings that served to frustrate the visitors.

Blown away in the first innings, Gloucestershire’s top order applied themselves with greater diligence second time around, Howell and Dent surviving a torrid examination at the hands of Henry before prospering against the change bowlers.

Heavily dependent upon their overseas hired hand, Kent need 10 wickets if they are to challenge Warwickshire for leadership of the second tier, while the requirement for Gloucestershire is to bat through the final day.

Kent coach Matt Walker was full of praise for leading wicket-taker Matt Henry, describing him as a “dream professional both on and off the field.”

He said: “We’ve struck gold with our overseas player this year and we’d love to have him back for the second half of the season, providing New Zealand are okay with that.

“To bowl like he did and open things up for us so many times on a pitch that offered so little to the bowlers was fantastic. He’s been brilliant for us both on and off the field.

“I thought the lads battled hard and gave it everything throughout the day. It’s going to be hard to take ten wickets on the final day, but we’ve given ourselves a chance.

“All the pressure will be on Gloucestershire on the final day and, if we can get one or two out early on, then you never know.”

Gloucestershire all-rounder Graeme van Buuren said: “Kent were ruthless in their bowling and gave us hardly anything. We had to fight hard all the way and stay disciplined.

“It will be the same on the final day. We’ll look to be positive, score runs and take the initiative, but we know we have to knuckle down and bat the whole day.

“Matt Henry has been outstanding on a pitch that doesn’t offer the bowlers too much and we need to try and shut him out if we can.

“Kieran (Noema-Barnett) and I showed that it is possible to score and build partnerships if you are patient, but you have to concentrate all of the time. We expect Kent to come hard at us in the morning and we will have to be ready to fight.”