Kent’s New Zealand strike bowler Matt Henry continued his stunning, early-season form by taking three for 24 to leave second-placed Sussex on 69 for four as 14 wickets fell on the opening day of this Specsavers County Championship Division 2 clash in Canterbury.
Henry, the Kiwi firebrand with nine Test caps, spent most of the winter carrying the drinks as the Black Caps entertained Joe Root’s England. However, the 26-year-old has fired on all cylinders since joining Kent last month and, in only his fourth game for the club, leads the national bowling averages with 30 championship wickets at a miserly average of 8.56.
Sussex lost both openers within 14 balls of starting their reply. Phil Salt departed first, following a Harry Podmore away swinger to feather one through to keeper Adam Rouse, who tumbled to his left four balls later to snaffle an edge from Luke Wells off the bowling of Henry.
The slippery paceman was soon celebrating again after having Harry Finch caught throat-high at slip by Sean Dickson and then Stiaan van Zyl played outside a full in-swinger to have his furniture rearranged, again by Henry. Ben Brown (20*) and Luke Wright (28*) counter-attacked thereafter, riding their luck to take the visitors through to the second day still trailing Kent by 146 runs.
Sussex head coach Jason Gillespie was delighted by his side’s mid-session comeback with the ball. “Losing four wickets at the end of the day wasn’t ideal, but the opposition are allowed to bowl well too. I thought we were a little bit slow into our work at the start of the day.
“It took us a little longer to get our lines and lengths right and we bowled well after lunch. David Wiese bowled really well, he was slow to get cracking and get the motor running, but when he did he was a real handful. The first hour tomorrow will be pretty crucial. We need ‘Browny’ and ‘Wrighty’ to develop this partnership for sure.”
Earlier on in the opening day, Kent had posted their first batting bonus point of the season yet still underperformed with the bat after succumbing for 215 inside 75 overs.
Batting first after an uncontested toss on a sunny morning at the Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence, Joe Denly’s third-placed side lost eight wickets for 51 runs in the mid-session but went on to reach 200 in spectacular style when tail-ender Grant Stewart hammered a brace of sixes in taking 17 off an over from Ollie Robinson.
In only his fourth first-class game Stewart, who had been out of action for three weeks with a hamstring strain, became his side’s joint second top-scorer with a career-best 31 before becoming last man out when chopping on against Ishant Sharma.
Sharma, the Indian paceman who was capped by Sussex ahead of the match, finished with three 62 and Robinson bagged three for 51 against his former county, but it was South Africa paceman David Wiese who stood out with four for 53 – including the prized scalps of Denly and Heino Kuhn, who had added 75 for the third wicket.
Kent lost openers Daniel Bell-Drummond (13) and Dickson (10) in the first session of the match but were in the process of rebuilding until Wiese caused havoc after lunch.
The 32-year-old right-armer from Roodepoort had Denly caught behind on the hook, then top-scorer Kuhn, after hitting 11 fours in a fluent 60, pushed inside the line of a leg-cutter to edge to Sussex gloveman Ben Brown.
Adam Rouse (0) fenced outside off to steer a low catch to Finch at second slip then Zak Crawley (7) gloved a third successive bouncer from Robinson through to the keeper.
Sharma replaced Wiese at the Nackington Road End and came to the party with two more Kentish wickets. Podmore (6) pushed down the wrong line to have off stump pegged back, then Henry (8) tamely chipped one to mid-on with Kent still 37 runs short of reaching a batting point.
Left-hander Calum Haggett dug in for over 100 minutes for a crucial 31 with three fours before being bowled through the gate by Robinson, leaving Stewart to clinch Kent’s sole batting point with some belligerent, late-order hitting.