Kent beneficiary Darren Stevens hit an unbeaten century in what could transpire to be his final game for the county as the hosts posted 389 for seven on the second day of their Specsavers County Championship clash with Essex.
After a first day wash-out and an uncontested toss, the 40-year-old all-rounder – whose contract expires at the end of the match – hit a typically belligerent unbeaten 107 to give his side the edge in this contest between the top two sides in the second tier.
Sam Northeast and Joe Denly also posted half centuries as the hosts racked up four batting bonus points, leaving them to secure one more point from this final round game in order to clinch second place, and with it the ECB’s prize money of almost £57,000.
Batting first on a pitch that spent much of Tuesday morning under wraps, Kent lost their first wicket after an hour’s play but only three overs after umpires Russ Evans and Graham Lloyd had changed the misshapen original ball.
Having hit seven fours in an attractive 32, Daniel Bell-Drummond threw all but the kitchen sink into a wide cover drive against Will Rhodes, only to edge to slip where Varun Chopra took a sharp, overhead catch.
Fellow opener Sean Dickson (16) soon followed when he nicked a defensive push at a Matt Dixon leg-cutter to be caught behind by a tumbling Adam Wheater to make it 50 for two.
Home skipper Sam Northeast and Joe Denly posted 109 for the third wicket within 25.1 overs either side of lunch. Denly posted his fourth championship half-century from 98 balls with eight fours, while Northeast reached his third 50 from 70 deliveries and with seven boundaries.
Moments later Northeast’s late decision to shoulder arms to Rhodes saw him deflect the ball onto his own stumps via the face of the bat and depart for 56.
Sam Billings marched in to spank a cover drive for four and pull a short one from Ravi Bopara to the ropes at square leg. But, with his score on 16, Billings’ cameo ended when he missed another attempted pull against Bopara to be sent packing lbw by umpire Russ Evans.
With Kent’s first batting bonus point on the board, Denly’s stay for an excellent 74 ended when he nicked a back-foot force against Dixon to the keeper, then on-loan Nottinghamshire all-rounder Will Gidman fenced at Dixon’s next delivery to give Wheater a third catch and Dixon, the pick of the Essex attack, a third scalp.
Standing ovation for Darren Stevens' 31st first-class century. Kent close on 388/7. Stand of 73* with Matt Coles 24* pic.twitter.com/nRce5uJDNa— Kent Cricket (@kentcricket) September 21, 2016
Stevens and James Tredwell combined to hoist a third batting bonus point courtesy of a sensible seventh-wicket stand. Essex took the second new ball in a bid to break the partnership, but Stevens lofted the third delivery with the new cherry from Dixon for six over mid-wicket to bring up his sixth 50 for 2016 from 83 balls and with seven fours.
Dixon enjoyed a fourth success and ended the stand for 108 by snaring Tredwell for 39. The ball after having Tredwell dropped behind, Dixon snapped one back off the seam to trap the left-hander lbw.
With Essex flagging, Stevens unfurled his big drives and cuts to reach an 83-ball 50 off Dixon with a six over mid-wicket, then mark his 125 ball century – the 31st of his first-class career – with a flat-bat six over backward point off Paul Walter. The veteran hit 13 fours and three sixes.
Kent’s century-maker Darren Stevens said: “I always love scoring runs and get more satisfaction from scoring runs being that Kent signed me as a batsman. I’ve obviously turned myself into a bit of an all-rounder in the meantime, but my main job is to get runs and the past couple of months have been pretty enjoyable in that regard.
“I love this place and I don’t want to go anywhere else, so my hope is that we can sort something out because I feel I’ve still got two years left in me. I still have passion for the club and for these lads and I want to be successful, so we’ll have to see what happens.”