Kent dominate pink ball opener
Kent dominate pink ball opener

All-rounder Grant Stewart scored a useful 38 and recorded career-best bowling figures of five for 21 as Kent dominated the opening day of their ‘pink ball’ Specsavers County Championship clash with Middlesex in Canterbury.

The visitors, who started their reply to Kent’s 241 all out at 8pm, limped in at stumps at 9.50pm on 54 for nine and having found no answer to Stewart’s right-armed swing on a day when 19 wickets fell.

Playing only his third game of the summer and the fifth of his first-class career, Stewart – an Australian-born cricketer with an EU passport courtesy of his Italian mother, Anita – transfixed the visiting top-order with a stunning display of swing bowling that left them trailing by 187 going into day two.

Middlesex lost opener Sam Robson in the second over when he feathered Stewart’s away-swinger to first slip, but soon after – and only four days after the summer solstice – the low sun stopped play for seven minutes when batsman Max Holden complained at being dazzled.

Ten runs later and Holden was dazzled once more when losing his off stump to a hooping in-swinger from Stewart, who produced a near identical in-swinger forcing Dawid Malan to defend the line of off stump only for the left-hander to edge to slip for a third ball duck.

Grant ended Stevie Eskinazi’s stay to a catch at third slip then Harry Podmore, bowling against his former county, made it 44 for five by having Hilton Cartwright snaffled at slip.

Grant completed his maiden five-wicket championship hall with a beauty that pitched on middle and clipped George Scott’s off stump and gave way to Ivan Thomas who, with his sixth delivery rushed one through the gate to rearrange James Harris’s stumps.

In the day’s penultimate over Calum Haggett produced a lifting leg-cutter to have John Simpson caught behind then, with the final delivery of the day, Thomas beat Ravi Patel for pace to clatter leg stump.

Batting first after winning the toss – Kent, unbeaten in the county championship since the first round of games – made three changes to the side that beat leaders Warwickshire in a thriller at Tunbridge Wells on Saturday.

Kent rested leading championship wicket-taker Matt Henry and veteran all-rounder Darren Stevens, while off-spinner Adam Riley was omitted after going wicketless in Kent’s two previous red-ball outings.

Sam Billings returned to skipper the side as a specialist batsman, Adam Rouse retained his place behind the timbers and seamers Haggett (back) and Stewart (hamstring) both returned from injury.

Middlesex were also forced into numerous team-changes and were without seven potential starters after injury and international calls; Eoin Morgan (England), Paul Stirling (Ireland), Nick Gubbins, Tom Helm (both England Lions), Steven Finn (knee), Toby Roland-Jones (spinal stress fracture).

After winning the toss the hosts struggled against the swing and bounce of the pink Dukes ball suffering their first loss in the eighth over when Sean Dickson played across a straight one from Harris to go leg before.

Heino Kuhn, who was presented his county cap at lunch, was, for once, guilty of tossing his wicket away by clipping a loose drive against Cartwright to short extra cover.

Daniel Bell-Drummond played down the wrong line to go lbw Cartwright as five more went in the mid-session when, but for a stirring eighth-wicket stand or 51 in 10 overs between Rouse and Podmore, their plight would have been even bleaker.

Having scratched around for almost an hour for 17 Billings mistimed a back-foot force against Tim Murtagh into the hands of Cartwright at short extra cover then Zak Crawley played inside a James Harris away-swinger to lose off stump.

Joe Denly, Kent’s leading championship run-scorer, fenced one he might have left to second slip and James Fuller collected a second when Haggett prodded to the tumbling keeper John Simpson and Podmore’s 31-ball cameo ended with a smeared drive to mid-off taken by substitute fielder Tom Barber.

After the players took tiffin at 7pm and with the floodlights on, Stewart leg-glanced one from Harris to the fine-leg ropes to raise Kent’s 200 for their first batting bonus at Canterbury since early May.

Top-scorer Rouse went for a gritty 42 when nicking a wide one from Fuller to the keeper then, after some lusty hitting, Stewart skied a return catch to Fuller to go for 38.

Fuller finished with four for 83, while Harris and Cartwright bagged two apiece as a profligate Middlesex attack leaked 30 extras.

Middlesex skipper Dawid Malan felt that Kent had batted and bowled better than his side, but was critical of the ‘pink ball’ playing regulations. He said: “I can’t quite understand why the two divisions are using different balls. It’s still county cricket and we have guys out here with aspirations to play international cricket, so to have different balls seems strange as we don;t do that in red-ball cricket. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
“It was doing so much at the end there that we actually did quite well to nick a few. We’re behind in this game and we’ll have to find a way to fight our way back into it.
“We had a really good win last week, we’re positive in our abilities to adapt and we’ll have a think about the best approach from here on. I thought we were competitive with the ball, we maybe let them have 60 too many, but credit Kent. Their bowlers did exceptionally well to put the ball in the right areas and they had a better day either way.”
Kent all-rounder Grant Stewart was beaming following career-bests with bat and ball. He said: “I’m speechless and don’t know quite how to react, but it feels great to be on the right side of this game after day one. My first over wasn’t the best because I didn’t quite my lines right, but I soon settled into a rhythm and find some good areas.
“You have to take it as it comes in these sort of games. This is the first pink ball game for me, but I’ve seen blokes like Jimmy Anderson hoop it around with the pink ball, he causes a few troubles, and this was a swing bowlers evening.”
As for his batting cameo, Stewart added: “The ball was still doing a bit toward the back end of our innings and I knuckled down at first. Once Adam Rouse got out I had licence to go for it, I had a bit of a swing and managed to get a couple away. They were useful runs and helped getting a batting point, which might be useful down the line.”