Essex take control at Canterbury
Essex take control at Canterbury

Three-wicket bursts by Sam Cook and Mohammad Amir helped Specsavers County Championship leaders Essex to command a rain interrupted opening day to the 168th Canterbury Cricket Week encounter with Kent.

By stumps at the Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence Kent had limped to 125 for six after 53 overs with Cook and Amir sharing the spoils for the visitors.

Chelmsford-born paceman Cook wrecked Kent’s top-order during a stint of three for seven, while Amir hit his straps later in the day after the hosts had mounted a partial recovery courtesy of a three-hour innings of 55 by No3 Daniel Bell-Drummond and a gritty 35 from keeper-batsman Ollie Robinson.       

Batting first after an uncontested toss, Kent lost Zak Crawley in only the fourth over of the day. Driving down the wrong line at a full delivery from Amir, Crawley was bowled through the gate, losing his off stump to make it seven for one.

With heavy cloud cover and the floodlights on from the third over, Amir and Jamie Porter continued to set the Kent batsmen a stern examination until rain stopped play at 11.38am with Kent on 11 for one after only 9.1 overs.  

With the covers on and pools of rainwater quickly forming on the outfield, the players went in for lunch as umpires Ian Blackwell and Paul Baldwin eventually deemed that play could re-start at 3.29pm with the loss of 43 overs in the day.

Seven overs after the resumption Kent opener Sean Dickson shuffled half-forward to a Cook in-ducker to be hit on the knee roll and depart lbw for eight then, in his next over, Cook snared the returning Kent skipper Sam Billings in near identical fashion, leg before for one on his season’s first-class debut.

Cook struck again during his superb mid-afternoon stint by removing Heino Kuhn for six – Kent’s fourth batsman to depart for a single-figure score. The South African’s late decision to run a Cook off-cutter down to third man backfired when he chopped the ball onto off stump.

Kent rebuilt steadily either side of tea through Robinson and Bell-Drummond, who added 68 for the fifth wicket with Bell-Drummond extending a fine run of red-ball form that has led to him scoring either a 50 or a century in each of his last five, four-day appearances.

Bell-Drummond, Kent’s leading championship run-getter for the season, notched his fifth half-century of the campaign from 99 balls and with seven fours, while Robinson, who contributed 35 in 98 minutes, batting with maturity way beyond his 20 years to help take Kent into three figures shortly before 6pm.

With six overs left in the day, Amir returned for a second spell to finally dislodge Bell-Drummond, who chopped on for a painstaking 55 with seven fours after aiming a late cut to a low-bouncing delivery.

In his next over the Pakistan left-armer swung one in through the air to pluck out Robinson’s off pole, leaving Darren Stevens, on his 300th first-class appearance, and No8 Ollie Rayner, to see Kent through to stumps without further alarm.

Cook, after his stunning three-wicket burst, said: “We’re pretty happy with the position we’re in, yes a few balls nipped around early on, but otherwise it’s a good wicket. It’s pretty slow and Bell-Drummond and Robinson batted really well in that middle period to weather the storm, but all in all, with the couple of late wicket’s we’re delighted with his the day panned out. Hopefully we can run through them in the morning and get batting.

“Mohammad Amir has been an unbelievable perfromer for us, we saw what he could do in 2017 and it’s great to have him back. The ball got soft after 25 overs, we know the Dukes ball has done that this season, but with Mohammad’s skill and pace it doesn’t seem to matter, he still gets it to swing. A couoke of those balls tonight were pretty special and we hope he has a few more of them left in the locker.”

Kent batsman Daniel Bell-Drummond said: “It was tough work on a slow wicket and with a bit of moisture around from the start. It wasn’t a bad wicket by any means, but they bowled really well and made it very tough for us. The scoreboard wasn’t really going anywhere and they showed us why they’re top of the table, but we’ll look to bounce back tomorrow.

“All our lads can all bat a bit, so we will look to push up toward 200 tomorrow and then see what our bowlers can extract from this surface.

“I didn’t feel like I could drive that much at the start of my innings because it was nipping around. I just played as late as possible. It had to patience first, and I thought Ollie Robinson played really well too. It’s annoying that neither of us could get through to the close, but tough work was the order of the day.”