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Northeast steers Kent in right direction

Highlights from the opening day at Guildford

Sam Northeast hit 91 to spearhead Kent's 351 for seven after they were put in by Surrey at Guildford in a LV= County Championship match important to both sides as they look to move more strongly into Division Two promotion contention.

Northeast, who has revived his season since being dropped for a fortnight last month and returning in the number five position, featured in stands of 64 and 63 with Ben Harmison and Darren Stevens before being joined in another useful partnership of 56 in 25 overs for the fifth wicket by Sam Billings.

Billings then finished off an excellent team batting performance by immediately attacking the second new ball. The young wicketkeeper-batsman plundered five fours off Matt Dunn in the 81st and 83rd overs and at stumps had reached 57 not out, from 104 balls and with 10 fours.

It was a good effort by Kent, especially after skipper Rob Key was forced to retire hurt on two at the end of the seventh over, and needed a hospital check-up. He was hit in the box from the first ball he faced, from Dunn, and although he struggled on for a while he was in real discomfort and soon had to come off.

Thankfully, Key was able to bat again later, but his early departure from the fray might have had more significant repercussions for his team.

Daniel Bell-Drummond, pushing forward to Stuart Meaker, edged to first slip on 15 and Kent, with both their openers back in the pavilion for different reasons, looked vulnerable on a well-grassed pitch and with Surrey's seam attack pressing to make further inroads.

Sam Northeast is lbw to Jason Roy for a fluent 91, missing out on a second straight LV= County Chmapionship century

Brendan Nash, however, counter-attacked with a punchy 38 from 53 balls, including seven fours, before overbalancing when trying to sweep a ball from off spinner Gareth Batty and being stumped by Gary Wilson.

Nash had added 69 with Harmison, who also batted well but slowed after lunch and was bowled for a 111-ball 48 soon afterwards when he inside-edged a drive at Dunn.

Northeast was fluent from the start, scoring on both sides of the wicket, and reached his half-century from 88 balls. Stevens, in at 167 for three, smashed a ball from Batty down the ground for four and had reached 34 when he fenced at a rising ball from Meaker and was smartly held by Jason Roy, moving to his left at second slip.

In sight of a second successive championship hundred, after his match-winning effort against Leicestershire at Grace Road, Northeast was lbw to Roy's medium pace as he played around his front pad.

Key, who returned to the crease on Northeast's dismissal, made only five more runs before he was trapped in front by Zafar Ansari's left-arm spin, attempting to sweep.

That was 291 for six, but Calum Haggett, making his first championship appearance of the season after recovering from a side injury, hung around for 15 before edging Tim Linley behind as a further 51 was added for the seventh wicket and, by the end of an excellent day's cricket in front of a good crowd at Woodbridge Road, Surrey's decision to bowl first was being mocked by the scoreboard.

Sam Billings continues Kent's momentum late on a day that started with Surrey winning the toss

There should not be too much criticism, though, as the pitch provided a good balance between bat and ball and, on another day, Surrey's bowlers would have got much better reward for their efforts.

Off the field, meanwhile, came news that Graeme Smith would not be returning to Surrey for his third scheduled season as captain. Following knee surgery, the former South Africa captain has been advised that he would not stand up physically to the day-to-day demand of a county season.

Graham Ford, Surrey's head coach, paid tribute to Smith and revealed that Surrey will take their time to appoint his long-term successor.

He said: "It's a huge disappointment that Graeme Smith cannot return next year.

"It's a massive blow to take a guy like that, who averages just under 50 in Test cricket and around 40 in one-day internationals, out of your dressing room - let alone his leadership qualities and his vast experience.

"But it was a decision he had to make, and his body was telling him that he would not be able to cope with the intensity of the county cricket circuit.

"We will be taking our time to look for a long-term replacement as captain, but we would hope to make that decision by the end of this season and Gary Wilson has been doing an excellent job with the support of the senior player group."

Northeast reflected on his side's decent day at the crease but warned that the job is not yet finished.

He said: "I think 350 is around a par total in the conditions, so we will take that. But the pitch is getting easier for batting and so we will want to add a few more runs yet tomorrow morning."

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