Kent trail Warwickshire by 229 runs with all ten first-innings wickets in hand
Delightful innings by Mark Wagh and Tony Frost could not mask another day of under-achievement by Warwickshire as they were bowled out for 237.
The Bears are in something of a rut at present. The last three matches have been typified by poor first-day performances that have handed the initiative to the opposition. It has proved fearsomely hard to wrestle it back.
Just for a moment in Tunbridge Wells, all in Warwickshire's garden appeared rosy. While Wagh was at the crease it was easy to forget that Daniel Vettori's Warwickshire career looks stillborn, that Heath Streak was absent with back pain and that a halfwit in a truck had driven into the side of my car.
Wagh times the ball with an ability granted to few. While some of his colleagues survived through dogged resistance, Wagh prospered through sheer class. He made batting look easy on a day when most of his team-mates made it look tortuous.
Watching Wagh in such form is a joyous experience. He suffered agonies during his injury-induced hiatus last year and has had to watch as other men have been preferred, both as captain-elect and opening batsman.
Now, however, Wagh (48 runs off 86 balls with eight fours) is back. This innings, while little more than a glorious cameo, reminded the doubters of his precious ability and suggested that the best could be yet to come. Nobody in the game plays the cover drive with such gentle power while the elegance of his clips through the legside and pulls also had a decent-sized crowd purring their delight.
Later, Tony Frost also batted beautifully as the pitch eased. His unbeaten 66 was his first half-century since the match-saving 82 against these opponents in April 2005. Without it, his side would have been facing a rout.
Frost (158 balls, nine fours) is out of contract at the end of the season and faces an uncertain future. His request for a contract extension in the winter was rejected, as was his subsequent request to be released. The signing of Tim Ambrose also appeared to be a nail in his coffin.
Yet he also timed the ball splendidly, cutting and pulling with lovely timing and unveiling his trademark cover drive whenever the opportunity allowed.
Lee Daggett, on Championship debut, also resisted well. Although he contributed only seven to the tenth-wicket stand of 52 in 19 overs, he faced 50 balls and at least allowed his side to claim one bonus point. That was the highest stand of the innings.
A combination of good bowling and loose batting resulted in Warwickshire subsiding to 109 for six when Frost ambled to the crease and, despite the tail's good work, the end total is some way under par.
"We batted poorly," Streak told The Post. "There's no pace in the wicket, so it's easy to get on the front foot. We just gave too many wickets away at the top of the innings."
There was some justification for Warwickshire's travails. This pitch is not easy. The recent heavy rains have created a sluggish surface and the bounce was not entirely consistent. Pitch inspector Phil Sharpe pronounced the strip blameless, however. Warwickshire have almost certainly allowed Kent the opportunity to enjoy the best of the batting conditions.
The forecast is good and the pitch could settle into something approaching a featherbed. Warwickshire will have to bowl very well to clamber back into this match.
Without Streak or Vettori, that will not be easy. Streak was not risked, though he insists his stiff back is not a cause for serious concern. Warwickshire are sensibly keen not to aggravate his condition but the condition of Vettori remains somewhat unclear. Scans on his back were inconclusive and the club are trying to book him another appointment with the specialist this week. An early return to action remains unlikely; an early return to New Zealand a distinct possibility.
Streak's absence meant Alex Loudon became the first uncapped captain in Warwickshire's Championship history and he was immediately faced with a tricky decision upon winning the toss. After the controversial ploy of bowling first against Hampshire and Middlesex, this was another tricky call. The scoreboard may not show it, but he made the correct decision.
Warwickshire were soon struggling, however. Nick Knight, devoid of form and confidence, fenced at one and was brilliantly held in the slips before Ian Bell's half-hearted push forward was beaten by some inswing. Jonathan Trott played over - and slightly across - an inswinging yorker. Loudon followed one he should have left.
Jim Troughton (29, 120 balls) spoilt his admirable defiance by attempting to play across the line before Wagh played-on against a gentle off-break and Dougie Brown played around a straight one.
It is hard to tell what constitutes a good score on this pitch. There is some help for the spinners and it could deteriorate later but 237 is inadequate.
Warwickshire face another uphill fight after a disappointing first-day performance.