Kent take control by irritating Yorkshire once again

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ONE can no more read anything into the events on the opening day of a cricket season than one can derive definitive pointers from a pre-season campaign.

Yorkshire’s achievement in winning the Barbados Twenty20 Cup last month was one thing; the challenge presented by a long County Championship season is quite another.

There will be plenty of twists and turns between now and mid-September as the summer progressively shows its hand.

All that can be said with certainty is that Kent left the field last night the happier of the teams after an interesting day at Headingley Carnegie.

Powered by innings of 97 from Rob Key, 67 from Brendan Nash and 64 from Scott Newman, the visitors totalled 345-5.

They have control of the game, if not yet command, after Key won the toss in splendid sunshine.

The pitch was bare and placid in character, and highlighted the fact that, while Yorkshire were enjoying the Caribbean sunshine, the weather in these parts was scarcely less pleasant, if not exactly of the rum-and-punch variety.

Nevertheless, one would have needed a vivid imagination to believe that, less than 24 hours before the start of this match, Andy Fogarty and his ground staff were working to clear snow from the outfield after winter briefly returned with a vengeance.

There were times yesterday when Yorkshire might have been forgiven for reflecting it would have been better had those flakes lain undisturbed.

After omitting batsman Adam Lyth and pace bowler Steve Patterson, they toiled in front of around 2,000 spectators, some of whom clutched thermos flasks in shivering temperatures.

It was not that Andrew Gale’s men bowled particularly poorly; more that penetration was difficult to come by and that the bowlers, understandably, were perhaps a little rusty.

Early wickets today could yet change the picture, but the scorecard told a story of Kent supremacy. No Yorkshire supporter will need telling that, on their previous Championship visit to Headingley for the final game of the 2010 season, Kent prevented the home side from winning the title.

On that occasion, Yorkshire collapsed from 93-1 in their second innings to 130 all-out, Kent going on to complete a four-wicket win as they staggered to 90-6.

Their latest trip north provided further irritation against a Yorkshire side playing their first competitive match under new first team coach Jason Gillespie.

There would certainly have been plenty for the former Australia fast bowler to ponder, although he would have been pleased with the way his men kept going.

Newman and Key laid the foundation for a substantial score, playing well during a morning session in which they reached 117-0.

Rich Pyrah thought he had Newman caught behind when the batsman was 31 and the score 74, but umpire Mark Eggleston did not concur. Newman responded by cutting Pyrah’s next ball for four and then off-driving the next delivery to the boundary, the ball bisecting the tightest of gaps between Gale at short-cover and Ryan Sidebottom at mid-off with almost scientific precision.

Pyrah then dropped short to Key, who seized on the tennis ball bounce with the alacrity of a Roger Federer to aim a crisp forehand pull to the East Stand boundary.

When Key on-drove the next delivery for four and then turned the next ball through fine-leg for three, he had reached fifty from 76 balls with eight fours. Newman soon followed him to the milestone when he cut Adil Rashid to the backward-point boundary.

The leg-spinner – sporting a slightly remodelled run-up, which appeared more fluid than before – had been brought into the action at 12.30pm and belied cold fingers to locate a generally impressive line and length.

Yorkshire finally claimed the first wicket 25 minutes after lunch with the score on 141 in the 37th over. Sidebottom, operating from the Rugby Stand end, produced a searing yorker to uproot Newman’s middle stump.

Two balls later, the former England man hit Ben Harmison on the body and responded by emitting a guttural cry that reverberated around the ground.

Sidebottom had the bit between his teeth in no uncertain terms and Yorkshire, collectively, seemed suddenly inspired.

Harmison, brother of former England pace bowler Steve, soon settled into his stride, however, on his first Championship outing for Kent after moving from Durham.

He showed plenty of finesse for a tall man, caressing the ball rather than trying to cream the cover off it.

It took a fine piece of fielding by Gale and a mental aberration from Key to give Yorkshire their second wicket with the score on 201.

Seeking the three runs he required to bring up his century, Key advanced down the track to Rashid and picked out mid-off, where Gale threw down the stumps with the batsman a good yard out.

Harmison went in the last over before tea when he edged Rashid to Gary Ballance at slip, while Nash – dropped on 63 – perished with the total on 310 when McGrath, at second slip, claimed a spectacular low catch off Ajmal Shahzad.

Kent lost their fifth wicket in the penultimate over when Mike Powell went lbw to Rashid, a dismissal that slightly took the gloss off their day and gave Yorkshire a renewed sense of hope.