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Essex take charge at Canterbury
Essex take charge at Canterbury

Essex have reached 327 for four at stumps on day one of their LV= Insurance County Championship with Kent at Canterbury. 

Matt Critchley cashed in after being dropped on six to post Essex’s highest score with an unbeaten 80, after Sir Alastair Cook had made 78 and Tom Westley 54. 

Grant Stewart had Kent’s most economical figures with one for 48, but the bowlers struggled to make inroads in a game that could be pivotal for their hopes of avoiding relegation. 

The contest had looked even when Essex were reduced to 219 for four, but Critchley’s unbroken partnership of 108 with Feroze Khushi, who was unbeaten on 46 at stumps, tipped the momentum back in the visitors’ favour. 

Kent chose to bowl after winning the toss, but struggled to create any chances, despite heavy cloud cover at the Spitfire Ground. Essex were 82 without loss at lunch and enjoyed a break early in the afternoon session when Cook was put down in the slips after edging Stewart, when he was on 44.  

The opening stand of 101 ended when Matt Quinn took a sharp return catch to remove Nick Browne for 45, but Cook and Westley put on 58 for the second wicket before the former edged Stewart to Ollie Robinson at first slip.  

Dan Lawrence made nine before his off stump was yorked by Daniel Bell-Drummond but Jack Leaning was then denied a wicket when Critchley was dropped by Ben Compton at short leg, leaving Essex 207 for three at tea.  

Westley was almost casually run out soon after the resumption, after Critchley had steered Harry Podmore towards third man. Having comfortably strolled two, Westley inexplicably set off for the keeper’s end and was inches short when Sam Billings gathered Joe Denly’s throw and broke the wicket.   

At that point Kent were well in the game, but the visitors responded with another substantial century stand, Khushi joining Critchley and comfortably seeing off the new ball before batting through the close. 

Essex’s Anthony McGrath said: “Having lost the toss, you’re never quite sure in September, with the half ten starts, but I think the way Nick and Alastair went about it, we got past that new ball and then we’ve scored pretty consistently all day, at a good rate as well, so we just had a quick chat upstairs and we’re pretty satisfied with day one. 

“To get 327 and with a really good partnership at the end their with Feroze, who came in at the last minute for Paul Walter, and with Matt Critchley coming back from The Hundred as well, you’re never quite sure with the guys coming back from a white-ball tournament how they’re going to go, so I think really we couldn’t have asked for much more from the boys. 

“We were going to bowl first, there’s a grass covering on that wicket and we thought with the half ten start we might just nick a few out early but we obviously lost the toss and are (still) in a fairly good position. 

“I think there was enough there for the bowlers, there was a bit of swing and nip and we navigated that well, but they were probably just a fraction short and probably didn’t challenge the stumps enough, so hopefully we can learn from that.” 

Kent’s Matt Walker said: “It was a long day. The shift back into four-day cricket is always a challenge. It had promise, that was the main thing. We started ok and I think conditions actually suited us, I think that wicket had more than it’s had in it all season actually and we just didn’t quite utilise the new ball as we’d have liked. There was an opportunity there to make some early inroads and they never got away from us, but we never quite managed to build up the pressure and get enough momentum. 

“We beat the bat a few times and but never quite put it all together. I thought Matt Quinn was excellent, we just couldn’t quite back it up enough to create more chances. We stuck with, the effort was there, but at 220 for four, just before the new ball, if we could have nicked a couple there it would have set us up really nicely for the second new ball. The second new ball didn’t really go our way at all. We didn’t look the threat were in that first hour or two of the day. From that point to the end of the day, it was disappointing. Seven down is probably where we would have liked to have been but they got away from us with that partnership at the back end of the day. There was a lot of huff and puff and some good effort, but not the outcome we would have liked. 

“Sam Billing has got a soft tissue injury, which is very unusual for him, he doesn’t really suffer with those sorts of injuries but he felt a pop and we’ll just have to monitor it and see where he is tomorrow morning. It’s not particularly promising unfortunately.”