On a sublime day when batting often appeared a surprisingly tricky pastime, Kent’s Joe Denly toiled for almost five hours to post his first hundred of the championship summer and lead his side’s gritty performance against Sussex.
A first-day crowd of almost 3,000 basked in the sun at the leafy Nevill Ground in Tunbridge Wells where Kent recovered from a stern first-session examination against the new ball to go in at stumps on 316 for eight in this Specsavers County Championship second division derby.
Batting first after winning the toss, Kent lost three wickets during a morning session when ball dominated the bat. Opening bat Sean Dickson departed to the ninth delivery of the match, prodding forward to a Jofra Archer leg-cutter, the South Africa-born right-hander feathered a catch through to the keeper Michael Burgess and went without scoring.
Archer, who had gone into the game with three times more wickets than any other Sussex bowler (18 as opposed to the six taken by Vernon Philander and Ajmal Shahzad), is also his side’s second highest run-scorer with 223 at an average of 55.75.
The hosts finally got the board ticking by the end of the fifth over when Daniel Bell-Drummond steered one from Philander along the turf to the ropes at third man. Archer gave way after a challenging opening burst of 6-4-4-1, as did Philander, who conceded only two boundaries - both off thick edges - during his stint of 6-3-14-0.
After spending the best part of 80 minutes simply surviving, Bell-Drummond appeared horrified at ultimately giving his wicket away for 14. Instead of allowing a David Wiese long-hop to sail by, Bell-Drummond aimed a ‘tennis style’ forehand drive that ballooned off the bat face to Danny Briggs at backward point.
With nine to his name, Kent skipper Sam Northeast followed a Philander away-swinger and tickled a second catch of the day to Burgess and sent his side in at lunch on 69 for three.
Denly and Joe Weatherly launched a post-interval counter attack to add 57 inside 17 overs before Weatherley, the on-loan Hampshire batsman, nicked to the keeper when defending on the back foot against Wiese.
In-form Darren Stevens marched in to unfurl a handful of sumptuous drives as he and Denly posted 60 in 65 balls before the 41-year-old miscued an attempted front-foot force against Briggs and dragged the ball into the hands of Chris Nash at wide mid-on to depart for a run-a-ball 44.
Denly teamed up with sixth-wicket partner Will Gidman to see Kent to their second batting bonus point and, moments later, Denly, 31, posted is 20th first-class century from 188 ball and with 13 fours.
Having contributed 42 to their 85-run stand,Gidman perished to a pad-bat appeal for leg before by left-arm spinner Briggs.
Denly’s 320-minute vigil for a season’s best 119 was ended by the new ball in Philander’s capable hands. After featuring in three half-century partnerships, the right-hander worked around his front pad to a Philander off-cutter after facing 208 balls and hitting 16 fours.
James Harris (7) and Adam Rouse (32*) formed an engaging eighth-wicket partnership in the final hour that took the hosts to a third batting bonus point before Wiese pinned Harris lbw on the back foot in the day’s penultimate over.
Although they beat the bat on numerous occasions with both new balls, Archer and Philander will be disappointed not to have picked up more wickets on a Nevill ground pitch that offered lateral seam assistance throughout the day.