Kent edging closer to victory
Kent edging closer to victory

Kent did not register a win in the conference segment of the LV=Insurance County Championship but are in a strong position to remedy that at the halfway stage of their opening divisional fixture against Leicestershire.

On a turning pitch, Callum Parkinson, the Leicestershire left-arm spinner, took five for 41, yet at 210 for nine in their second innings when bad light curtailed the second day with 22 overs unbowled, Kent had built a lead of 333.

Chief contributor was the veteran all-rounder Darren Stevens with a masterful unbeaten 55 after Jack Leaning had added 34 to his first-innings 75 not out and Jordan Cox made 38.

Earlier, Leicestershire had been dismissed for 109, the wickets shared mainly between seamers Grant Stewart (3-20) and Matt Milnes (3-24) and another left-arm spinner, 23-year-old James Logan, who returned three for eight from 8.1 overs in his second first-class match for Kent after being released by Yorkshire last autumn.

Five down for 66 overnight, Leicestershire achieved their objective of avoiding the follow-on but lost the remainder of their wickets within an hour and a half.

Milnes dismissed Louis Kimber and Ben Mike in his first two overs, both lbw.  Logan claimed his second and third successes as Leicestershire lost their last three wickets in the space of 12 balls, Parkinson given out leg before and Chris Wright top-edging a paddle-sweep gently to second slip. In between, Will Davis edged Stewart to third slip.

Ed Barnes was Leicestershire’s top scorer with 22 not out, an innings interrupted by a bang on the head from a short ball by Milnes that saw him leave the field for concussion checks. Happily, he was cleared to return at nine wickets down, confirming his well-being by hitting Stewart for back-to-back fours.

With Zak Crawley looking in good touch, Kent added 49 to their lead in 15 overs without loss but the introduction of Parkinson’s at the pavilion end brought an immediate dividend for the home side as a beautiful delivery to take the England batsman’s off stump. Joe Denly was leg before to Ben Mike and Parkinson quickly picked up a second wicket as Cox edged to slip.

As Parkinson changed ends, Barnes had Sam Billings caught behind with his first ball and bowled Ollie Robinson, reducing Kent to 142 for five but by the time rain forced an early tea the lead was 271.

The final session brought two more wickets each for Parkinson and Barnes but 45-year-old Stevens drew on all his experience to hit a six and nine fours in an innings of controlled positivity that may be decisive in the match.

Kent all-rounder Darren Stevens said:

“We felt we should have scored a few more runs in the first innings but we executed our bowling plans well. We wanted four wickets on the first evening and we ended up getting five and we felt this morning that if we were patient the wickets would come and that’s what happened.

“There is something in the pitch for the spinner but if it hit that area that turned it generally turned a bit too much, so if you nicked it you were a little bit unlucky. Don’t get me wrong, Parkinson bowled nicely and it was easier against the seamers but with a lead of 120-odd we could go out and bat with intent and we did that well.

“From this position if we bowl anything like we have a good chance, although it is generally a good pitch and if we bowl poorly they will score runs.

“Myself, I was pleased that I stuck to my plans. I love getting down the pitch to a spinner and hitting over the top and I love sweeping, but I didn’t feel I could do that. I looked to play on the offside and it worked well for me.”

Leicestershire’s left-arm spinner Matt Parkinson, who took five for 41, said:

“There is a lot of assistance in the pitch but that adds a bit of pressure in that I’ve got to be the man but I’ve felt in good rhythm for a long time now this season. It was quite difficult in the first innings adjusting to bowling in red-ball cricket after a long period with the white ball but today on the whole I’ve felt pretty good.

“We felt we let them get 60 or 70 too many first innings, although credit to Jack Leaning who batted really well and we probably got a bit frustrated searching for those last wickets.

“When we batted, we know Darren Stevens is very hard to score off and their left-arm spinner came into it as well, but there were a few soft outs and the pitch is better than 29 wickets in two days.  Hopefully, we can show some character and build some partnerships and although we’re not favourites we chased nearly 400 against Middlesex so it’s been done before.”