Essex debutant Critchley's century heaps misery on Kent
Matt Critchley marked his Essex debut with a century that went up through the gears and heaped more misery on a Kent side kept in the field for five sessions at Chelmsford.
The close-season signing from Derbyshire was finally last man out for 132 as Essex built on the first-wicket platform of 220 established between first-day centurions Sir Alastair Cook and Nick Browne to plunder 514 from an ailing Kent attack.
Critchley was finally beaten by an off-break from 21-year-old rookie Tawanda Muyeye after an innings of sublime timing that went off at a careful rate of one run every other ball to hitting nearly a run a ball by the time it ended four and a half hours later. In the process he shared stands of 94 with Adam Wheater and 65 with another debutant Adam Rossington.
Kent’s top order was shorn of the likes of Zak Crawley, Jack Leaning, Sam Billings and George Linde for various reasons, but Nick Compton eked out a patient 47 in negotiating 33 overs in the evening and reducing Essex’s lead by 122 runs for the loss of Daniel Bell-Drummond.
Conditions were in marked contrast to day one. Gone was the strong wind to be replaced with comparative gentleness; gone, too, was the benign wicket to be replaced in the morning session by one on which some spite and zip was suddenly found by Jackson Bird and Matt Milnes.
Tom Westley discovered the veracity of that when he attempted to fend off one from Bird that rose from a length but ended up in the wicketkeeper’s gloves.
Critchley and Rossington grabbed the opportunity to ease themselves in to life at their new home during an eye-catching sixth-wicket partnership. Rossington, who only signed on loan from Northants at the start of the week, married aggression with some majestic strokes as the wicket calmed down again: a lovely cover drive for four off Matt Quinn was followed by effortless straight drives to the boundary from successive deliveries.
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Having reached 41 off 52 balls, however, Rossington fell to the wily old head of Darren Stevens who sent down a delivery that jagged past the outside edge and caressed the off-stump.
Critchley had played the anchor role but was no less flamboyant than Rossington when the chance arose: there was an elegant a back-foot four off Nathan Gilchrist and a well-executed pull to the boundary that took him to fifty.
Taking over as the dominant batsmen, Critchley accelerated after lunch and reached the fifth century of his career with a straight-driven four off Quinn. Once three figures had been reached, Critchley celebrated with maximums over Muyeye’s head and a pull over square leg off Gilchrist before becoming the maiden first-class wicket for Muyeye on the stroke of tea.
Wheater had taken a while to get into his stride, contributing just 10 to the first 50 runs of the seventh-wicket partnership. But once settled he bludgeoned the ball to various corners of the ground before chopping on to Quinn.
Bird, who claimed the three wickets at the top of the Essex order, was the pick of a bruised Kent attack, while Gilchrist picked up three less auspicious scalps, adding Shane Snater and Mark Steketee towards the end of Essex’s innings.
Compton, another of those making their debut, led the Kent response but lost fellow opener Bell-Drummond lbw to Sam Cook in the eighth over. However, he found a willing partner in Muyeye and the pair took advantage of anything loose to eat into Essex’s daunting total.
Critchley said: “I got to watch Chef and Browney yesterday – sitting in the dressing room most of the day was a pleasure and then thankfully it’s my day today.
“It’s a pretty good wicket but still enough there if you put it in the right areas, and hopefully a little bit of spin later on in the game.
“The way the team is set up, it’s nice to go out like that and play our natural game, backed to play how we want to play. I played a lot against Ross [Adam Rossington] over in the East Midlands so nice to be out there with him. But there’s hundreds all the way down, with Wheats at seven. We’re capable of putting big scores on like this or post challenging scores on wickets that do a bit more.
“Obviously the scoreboard says it’s difficult for bowlers but maybe there’s different ways to skin a cat out there. Maybe straighter lines or whatever, but we’ll have a think overnight and hopefully with more cloud cover, the ball starts zipping about like it’s famous for doing here.
“The first aim is to bowl them out once with as much of a lead or a follow-on with as much time left to push for a victory.“