MATT Critchley marked his Essex debut with a century that kicked into high gear and racked up more misery with the Kent side kept on the pitch for five sessions at Chelmsford.
Derbyshire’s late-season signing was ultimately the last man at 132 as Essex built on the first-wicket 220 platform established between first-day centurions Sir Alastair Cook and Nick Browne to loot 514 from a Kent sick attack.
Critchley was finally beaten by a break from 21-year-old rookie Tawanda Muyeye after a sublimely timed run that came at a careful pace of one run every two balls to hit close to a run one 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 fellow newbie Adam Rossington in the LV=Insurance County Championship Division One contest.
Kent’s top order was stripped of Zak Crawley, Jack Leaning, Sam Billings and George Linde for various reasons but Nick Compton managed a patient 47 as he traded 33 overs on the evening and cut Essex’s lead by 122 points for the loss of Daniel. Bell Drummond.
The conditions were in stark contrast to the first day. No more strong wind, replaced by a relative softness. Gone also was the benign wicket, replaced in the morning session by a wicket on which Jackson Bird and Matt Milnes suddenly found meanness and zip.
Tom Westley discovered the truth of this when he tried to fend off a delivery from Bird which went down a length but ended up in the wicketkeeper’s gloves.
Critchley and Rossington seized the opportunity to get to grips with life in their new home in an eye-catching partnership at the sixth wicket.
Rossington, who only signed on loan from Northamptonshire at the start of the week, married the aggression with some stately blows as the wicket quieted down again. A nice cover drive for four from Matt Quinn was followed by effortless straight drives to the limit of successive deliveries.
After hitting 41 from 52, however, Rossington came across the tricky old header from Darren Stevens – who sent in a delivery that shredded the outside edge and stroked the stump.
Critchley had acted as the anchor but was no less flamboyant than Rossington when the opportunity arose. There was an elegant back foot four from Nathan Gilchrist and a well-executed boundary pull that took it to fifty.
Critchley sped up after lunch and reached the fifth century of his career with a straight four past Quinn. After hitting triple digits, he celebrated with highs over Muyeye’s head and a pull over Gilchrist’s square leg before becoming Muyeye’s first class wicket on a teaser.
Wheater had been a while in his stride, contributing just 10 to the first 50 runs of the seventh wicket partnership, but once set up he bludgeoned the ball to various corners of the pitch before cutting to Quinn.
Bird, who claimed all three wickets at the top of Essex’s order, was the pick of a battered Kent attack, while Gilchrist picked up three less auspicious scalps, adding Shane Snater and Mark Steketee towards the end of the Essex sleeves.
Compton, another of those to debut, led Kent’s response but lost fellow Bell-Drummond lbw to Sam Cook in the eighth.
However, he found a willing partner in Muyeye and the pair took advantage of whatever was loose to eat into Essex’s daunting total.