Stewart ton puts Kent in control
Stewart ton puts Kent in control

Kent all-rounder Grant Stewart blasted a maiden first-class century from only 71 balls to leave Middlesex with a mountain to climb at the mid-point of their pink ball Specsavers County Championship clash with Middlesex.

Stewart, who starred with the ball by taking a career-best six for 22 to help dismiss Middlesex for 56 in their first innings, clattered 13 fours and five sixes as Stewart and last man Ivan Thomas added 100 for Kent’s 10th wicket – to which Thomas contributed a single.

Stewart’s lusty 103, in only his fifth first-class game, was the highest ever individual county championship score by a Kent player batting in the No10 berth, beating 91 by Wykeham Cornwallis [The 3rd Baron Cornwallis of Linton] against Essex at Canterbury in 1926.

Facing a mammoth victory target of 467, Middlesex eventually got to bat again in the twilight at 8.35pm and at almost the same time that their top-order unravelled under the lights the previous evening.

They made a disastrous start to the 10 overs through to stumps when Max Holden feathered Harry Podmore’s third delivery to the keeper to go without scoring, while Stevie Eskinazi fenced at a spiteful lifter and edged to second slip off the same bowler to go for five.

Sam Robson and night watchman Ravi Patel saw it through to stumps on 22 for for two to reduce the victory target to 449 going into the third day of four when Kent will scent warping up their fifth win of the campaign.

Having finally dismissed Middlesex for 56, with Stewart picking up the visitors’ final wicket of Tim Murtagh, Kent opted to pile on the runs by batting again instead of enforcing the follow-on. A decision fully vindicated once Stewart hammered his belligerent ton late in the day.

Though overhead conditions appeared ideal in sunny daylight hours, Kent again found batting a perilous pastime against the pink Dukes’ ball. Sean Dickson prodded half forward with bat tucked in, to lgo bw to a James Harris off-cutter, as did Bell-Drummond, after playing across Murtagh’s off-cutter that jagged back up the slope.

Joe Denly batted 40 minutes for two before his patience snapped with a loose, mistimed drive against Hilton Cartwright that picked out extra cover.

Middlesex bowled well to pick up five Kentish wickets in the mid-session. Heino Kuhn reached a 76-ball 50 – his fourth of the championship campaign and the first of the match – only to depart to a contentious catch behind the stumps when jabbing down late on a full ball from Murtagh.

Murtagh then pegged back Billings’ off stump as the Kent captain shouldered arms. The 78-minute stay for 29 represented Billings’ highest score for the county this season.

Adam Rouse perished lbw after being struck below the right knee-roll by Cartwright, Calum Haggett nicked off to slip against Ravi Patel then, just before tea at 6.55pm, Harry Podmore went worked across the line to Cartwright to become.

Zak Crawley’s stay ended in a stumping off Patel early in the final session, but Grant Stewart’s agricultural late hitting tipped the balance firmly in Kent’s favour and left Middlesex in deep trouble.

Kent’s century-maker Grant Stewart said: “It was all about the team today and when you live by the sword batting-wise, you die by it too, so when I thought my time was running out I went for it.

“I started off trying to hang around with Zak Crawley but I got a bit of a licence to have a crack at it once he got out. I thought we were going to declare after my 50 but Mitch Claydon ran a drink out to say I’d have another couple of overs and started nudging it around a bit after that.

“It was a great feeling to get over the line for the hundred. All the hard work you put in pays off in momenst like that and I was happy to help the boys get to a good total.”

As for his chances of forcing his way into the Spitfires XI for Saturday’s RLODC final side against Hampshire at Lord’s, Stewart added: “I think anyone who’s been playing in our south group games would feel really hard done by if I slotted in at the last minute. Obviously, it’d be unbelievable to play, but I can’t see it. I’ll happily run the drinks, but of course, it’d be great to play if needed.”

James Harris, the Middlesex seamer who spent part of 2017 on loan with Kent, conceded his side have a fight on their hands to save the game. He said: “Yesterday didn’t go to play from the start and we knew, after losing the toss, that it would maybe likely that we’d have to bat under the lights. The ball behaves differently at various times of the day and we’d have been better off match-wise is Kent had batted through and made 320, because it did so much at twilight on the first day.

“We did a pretty good job for much of the day today until Grant came in and played that amazing innings. We’ll fight as hard as we can from here on and make sure we give a good account of ourselves.”