Match Preview: Essex v Kent LVCC, 9 – 12 May

Tuesday 8th May 2012

Men’s First Team

Essex v Kent – LV= County Championship Division Two
The County Ground, Chelmsford, 9th – 12th May 2012

Old foes Kent and Essex are set to re-ignite their rivalry this week with Rob Key’s men making the short trip to Chelmsford for a crucial LV= County Championship division two clash.

The two sides have identical records in four-day cricket, so far this season, having won one and drawn three of their four matches to date; the weather making it tough to force victories. Kent, however, are nine points and three places above Essex, in second place, due to their vast collection of bonus points. Derbyshire are the early season pacesetters at the top of the table.

Jimmy Adams’ resurgent side will be looking to emulate a rare double they achieved over Essex last season. In the opening round of championship matches, a hard-fought clash saw Kent snatch a 57-run victory. A frenetic opening day saw 16 wickets fall as the visitors took charge with Sam Northeast and key all-rounder Darren Stevens stealing the show. After winning the toss and batting first, Kent lost wickets at regular intervals and were indebted to Northeast; his second county championship century led his side to 247. The former England under-19 star cracked ten boundaries and two sixes in his diligent 112 as he found number ten Robert Joseph to be his most willing partner – the duo adding 54 for the final wicket as Kent recovered from 140 for 7.

What followed was Stevens-inspired carnage as he reduced the home side to 49 for six at stumps with their much vaunted batting having no response to the swinging ball. He accounted for England pair Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara for six and nought respectively as Essex were left in tatters overnight. On day two they responded more positively and, led by skipper James Foster (88 not out), battled to 201 all-out with Stevens claiming his maiden five-wicket haul while Joseph chipped in with figures of 2-27.

Looking to capitalise on their first-innings lead, Kent started well with fifties from Key and Martin van Jaarsveld but were then pegged back by 17 year-old left-armer Reece Topley as his 5-46, on debut, reduced them to 238 – setting Essex 285 to win.

Opener Billy Godleman led the chase with 58, and Bopara chipped in with 39, but Kent kept taking wickets at important times and going into the last day the home side still needed 87 to win with four wickets remaining. Joseph, however, ensured there was to be no nail-biting crescendo as he took out the dangerous Foster for 21, along with the captures of Tim Phillips and Topley, to finish with fine figures of 4-25, on his return to the first-team, as Kent secured local bragging rights in the opening bout.

The return fixture at Canterbury was equally gripping with the hosts sealing a six-wicket win, thanks largely to a ten-wicket match-haul from David Balcombe, the Club’s on-loan fast bowler.

Borrowed from Hampshire, Balcombe extracted pace and bounce out of the St Lawrence wicket to bag six scalps in the Essex first-innings as Foster’s men were bundled out for just 144. The captain himself was the only batsman to provide resistance (38) allowing Balcombe, ably assisted by Stevens (2-46), to cause havoc and give Kent the upper hand.

On a tricky wicket, Kent applied themselves well in response and took total control of the game. Joe Denly (55 from 53 balls) and championship debutant Daniel Bell-Drummond posted 51 for the first-wicket to build a solid foundation. Despite a flurry of wickets, reducing them to 133 for five at one stage, stand-in skipper Geraint Jones (54) and James Tredwell (47) put on 97 for the sixth wicket to strengthen Kent’s position. Former Kent seam bowler David Masters continued his stunning season, returning 6-78, but even he couldn’t stop the home side taking a 116-run advantage.

Essex didn’t fair too much better in their second-innings. Foster again led the way, with an unbeaten 49, but he was let down by his troops as the visitors fell from 138 for four to 188 all-out. Balcombe completed his landmark haul, with figures of 4-51, while Matt Coles and Tredwell chipped in with three wickets apiece. Chasing the small victory target, Kent had a wobble after three wickets from Graham Napier reduced them to 35 for four but Jones saw his side home with a flurry of boundaries to secure the league double.

Both counties come into this game on the back of rain-ruined championship draws. West Indian Brendan Nash was the star of the show for Kent as they played out a draw with Yorkshire. The left-hander’s unbeaten 132 led his team to 350-9, and an extra batting bonus point, before the rain took over. The total was in response to the Tykes first-innings total of 247 where Coles continued his rampant start to the season; returning fine figures of 4-70.

Another overseas star shone for Essex as they drew with Glamorgan in Cardiff. South African Alviro Petersen struck 145 against his old side to see the visitors up to 259 in their-first innings. Impressive left-arm quick Tymal Mills then took centre-stage, claiming four victims, as Glamorgan were dismissed for 187. Essex then declared on 166 for nine in their second-innings but rain ensured they ran out of time, in their search for a win, as the Welsh county batted 42 overs to finish on 99 for five and draw the game.

A slightly improved weather forecast this week should allow for an intriguing game of cricket with both team’s looking to maintain their promotion aspirations.

Team news: Kent will be without in-form all-rounder Matt Coles. The fast bowler has been in scintillating form so far this season. He has already claimed 21 championship victims, scored his maiden first-class century and returned match winning figures of 6-32 in the Club’s CB40 opener against Yorkshire on Sunday. Coles is on duty with England Lions, who start their four-day Tour match against the West Indians at Northampton on Thursday. England under-19 all-rounder Adam Ball could be one candidate to take his place while fast-bowler Ivan Thomas could come into the reckoning, after taking six wickets for Leeds and Bradford against Sussex last week. Veteran Azhar Mahmood continues to impress for Kings XI Punjab in the IPL and Ashley Shaw is still absent as he recovers from shin surgery.

Essex look set to include England duo Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara, with the first Test-match against the West Indies not starting until 17th May.

Full Kent team-news to appear on the website in due course.