Joe Denly scored his first century of the Specsavers County Championship campaign and moved Kent into a 319-run lead going into the final day of their Division One clash with Nottinghamshire in Tunbridge Wells.
When bad light halted play Kent were sitting pretty on 273 for three after 67 overs, with Denly - who only last month missed out on selection for England’s World Cup 2019 squad - unbeaten with 111.
The right-hander went out to bat in the home side’s second innings of this basement battle having mustered only 44 runs in his five championship knocks of the summer at a paltry average of 8.8 – hardly the form required to secure a berth in England’s Ashes squad later this summer.
Four hours later, however, Denly had hit 13 fours in an unbeaten 111 having featured in stands worth 75 with Zak Crawley, 152 in tandem with Daniel Bell-Drummond and then an unbroken 31 with Heino Kuhn that ensured a draw or a Kent victory will be the overall result.
After securing a useful 42-run first-innings lead, Kent lost Sean Dickson just before lunch then first innings century maker Zak Crawley, caught on the drive in the mid-session.
After a watchful start, Denly started to unfurl the trademark cover drives that won him England Test caps in the Caribbean during the winter.
By mid-afternoon Bell-Drummond, who has also been struggling for form, also started to blossom in the best batting conditions of the match. Denly reached his 50 from 82 balls while Bell-Drummond reached the landmark from only 70.
The return of the skilful James Pattinson accounted for Bell-Drummond to a catch at the wicket for 79, but Denly poughed on for the 28th first-class century if his career with 13 fours.
“We’re in a really good position going into the last day,” said Denly after his hundred. “We started well this morning with the ball and the seamers all put in a fantastic display.
“In previous years, teams have tended to get away from us when some tail-enders have wagged a little, but this morning we were ruthless. Matt Milnes showed what a good signing he has been and I’m delighted that he got his first five-for against his old club.”
He added: “With the bat, it was about trying to go out and be as positive as I could. They were going to attack me, so I tried to capitalise on any width or anything short and the plans worked well.
“I enjoy playing at Tunbridge Wells and this is a massive game against a team down the bottom yet still close to us. We’re in a great position now and hopefully we can put them under some real pressure tomorrow.”
Earlier, Kent’s bowlers made the most of overcast, humid conditions to pick up Nottinghamshire’s last six wickets for 59 runs in a shade over 90 minutes with Matt Milnes claiming career-best figures of five for 68 against the club he left during the close season.
Kent made their first breakthrough after 20 minutes when Milnes plucked out the off stump of his former captain Steven Mullaney, sparking exuberant celebrations by the bowler.
Notts All-rounder Samit Patel batted on unphased to reach an uncharacteristically slow half-century in from 141 balls with seven fours. But, down the other end Notts No7, Tom Moores underwent a testing examination at the hands of Milnes, who beat the left-hander’s outside edge three times and had a strong leg before shout turned down all in the same over.
In his next over, Milnes finally ended Patel’s three-hour stay for 52 with a shooting off-cutter that thudded into his pads leaving umpire Neil Mallender to raise the finger. Two balls later, Milnes was celebrating his maiden five-wicket haul in first-class cricket when James Pattinson’s edged drive was caught at slip.
Milnes rested after a fine new-ball spell of 7-1-19-3, allowing South African Wiaan Mulder to get in on the act by having Steven Mullaney caught behind off a feathered back-foot force, then Tom Moore’s difficult stay ended for 13, leg- before to a Grant Stewart in-ducker bowled from around the wicket.
After a short rain break, Mulder returned to have Matt Carter caught at slip to secure a precious 42-run lead for the hosts. Mulder finished with three for 35, Podmore and Stewart one apiece with Milnes the stand-out performer.
Patel, fresh from his maiden championship 50 of the campaign, said: “I’ve been doing the work in the nets and not getting the results in the middle. That has been a little bit frustrating and it felt good to get some rewards today.
“We’ve had the back end of the conditions so far in this match. We’ve had to bat in on-off conditions [though poor light and drizzle], so I thought we batted pretty well on a sporting wicket. But then when the sun comes out it is a different wicket.
“I’ve thought I’ve played pretty well in the first innings but we’ve got some work to do in the second. It will be an interesting day.
“Denly batted excellently, showed how good he is and took the game away from us. It’s always hard when you’re trying to force it and they got away from us a little bit.
“The bad light at the end tonight makes sure they’ll have to bat on for a bit on the morning and it will take some overs out of the game. Then we’ll see. If we can get two people in maybe we can knock them off.”