Honours even at Canterbury
Honours even at Canterbury

Leicestershire all-rounder Neil Dexter returned to his former home ground to bag five for 76 and help restrict Kent to 313 for nine on a fascinating second day of cut and thrust cricket in Canterbury.

The hosts, who still trail Leicestershire – the only side in the county championship still without a win in 2017 – by 37 runs struggled to cope with Dexter’s underrated military-medium seamers.

Only Kent skipper, Sam Northeast, who batted almost four-and-a-half hours for his 97 went past 50 for the home side, but he too fell to the wiles of Dexter.

Responding to Leicestershire’s dogged first innings of 350, Kent’s opening batsmen Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sean Dickson were both back in the hutch inside 13 overs.

Dickson, who looked solid in scoring 19, drove with firm-hands and leaden feet at a full away-swinger from Ben Raine only to edge to second slip. Then, with his score on 17, Bell-Drummond pushed at a gentle Dexter away-swinger and nudged a second catch to Ned Eckersley in the cordon.

Northeast and Joe Denly appeared comfortable in adding 39 either side of lunch until Denly, 58 runs short of reaching his 1,000 for the season, tossed away his wicket by wafting off the back-foot against Raine to be caught behind.

Sam Billings marched in for only his fourth championship innings of the summer to get off the mark with an effortless straight-driven boundary off Raine. But, having breezed to 16, Billings played loosely across the line of a shooting off-cutter and appeared disappointed when umpire Martin Saggers upheld Dexter’s lbw appeal.

Dexter was soon celebrating again when he nipped one down the Canterbury slope to hit the back pad of Old Tonbridgian and Kent championship debutant, Zak Crawley, who went lbw for only a single on his championship debut.

Northeast and Darren Stevens combined to steady the Kentish ship with a sensible sixth-wicket stand worth 80 either side of tea. Content to wait for the bad ball, Northeast went to a 97-ball 50 with six fours and Stevens was only four runs short of joining him when he played around his front pad to go lbw to a Matt Pillans in-ducker.

Left-hander Matt Coles sidled in to launch a one-man boundary spree, hitting seven of them in his 37 before an attempted lap against spinner Callum Parkinson looped up to the keeper seemingly via the gloves. Coles, however, marched off rubbing his forearm.

Home skipper Northeast was only three short of his third century of the summer when his 170-ball stay came to an end. Caught on the crease and playing across a Dexter off-cutter, he went lbw after 260 minutes at the crease.

Dexter picked up his fifth when Mitch Claydon, with his side 13 shy of a third batting bonus point, drove on the up straight into the hands of short-extra cover.

Much to the delight of home supporters, Kent’s last man Imran Qayyum came in to hit his first runs in first-class cricket, including a brace of boundaries, to help Adam Milne steer Kent beyond 300.

The second day started as Monday’s play had finished with Leicestershire’s last pairing of Parkinson and Hill making hay. Resuming on their side’s overnight score of 326 for nine, the duo continued to use the long handle and added 24 for a fourth batting bonus point before their invaluable 122-run stand ended when Parkinson (75) edged a Stevens away-swinger to slip to give Stevens a career-best return of eight for 75. Hill was left unbeaten on a season’s best 85.

Northeast, the Kent top-scorer, felt his side had battled hard on a tricky pitch. He said: “It’s an even game at the moment and there’s plenty of cricket left. Hopefully the rain won’t interfere with us tomorrow, because there could be a good game ahead of us.

“We scrapped our way through today with Leicestershire bowling well in large parts and we needed that good rearguard action right at the end to get us over 300. We hope for a few more runs in the morning to leave the game nicely poised.”

“The pitch has played how we expected it to and the slower bowlers have just got it to talk a bit. It’s nipped around for them but you don’t get much value for slamming the ball into the wicket.”

“Dexy bowled really well and gave us a lot of problems and second time around we’ll have to come up with some better plans batting against him. But with two days to go there’s still a game for us to win.”

Dexter, fresh from his five for 76 return, said: “It’s funny old pitch and you have periods when, like when Sam and Darren were batting, when it seemed quite flat but then one would nip out of nowhere and give you some hope again.

“Stevo always shows us how to bowl on these sort of surfaces. It’s no secret, just put six balls in a row in the right area, and I learned from him today. I’ve realised at this stage in my career I’m never going to be a fast bowler, so I just tried to keep it tight and use my skills.

“I’ve played a bit of second team cricket in the past couple of weeks and came into this match with quite a nice rhythm to my bowling and I think that, coupled with my local knowledge of the slopes here, helped me a lot today.

“I know there’s a bit of weather forecast for tomorrow, but we can’t think of that right now, we have to look at what’s in front of us and any lead on that surface we’ll take and try and drive the game forward from there.”