James Vince in fine touch with breezy hundred to give Hampshire the upper hand at Kent

Hampshire 337 for 4 (Vince 111, Gubbins 69, Dawson 63*) lead Kent 305 (Barker 6-53) by 32 runs

The breeziest of hundreds from James Vince helped grease the wheels for Hampshire on a chilly afternoon in Canterbury, the visitors pushing into a first-innings lead with alacrity after wrapping up Kent inside the first hour of day two. The Vince cover drive, so often a double-edged sword, was shown to be in glorious working order as Hampshire’s captain brought up his first Championship hundred since making 231 at Grace Road in the first round of last year’s competition.

These are times of flux in English cricket, and while it is more than four years since Vince’s last Test appearance, he has nevertheless been mentioned in dispatches as a potential captaincy option in the wake of Joe Root’s resignation last week. Though he seems destined to go down as an unfulfilled talent at the highest level, Vince did prove a point when scoring a maiden England hundred against Pakistan in last summer’s ODI series; he is an experienced leader, in good form – this was his third 50-plus score in four innings – and perhaps, as former Kent captain David Fulton suggested on commentary for the livestream, more at ease with his game than during previous assignations.

Ben Stokes is, of course, favourite to be offered the job by Rob Key, England’s new managing director of men’s cricket, and Vince would probably be behind a number of younger candidates to bat in the middle order. But watching Vince in full flow is wont to make the dreamers dream.
There are not many more swoon-inducing batters on the county circuit, and Vince’s full repertoire was on display during an innings that gambolled along at pretty much a run a ball throughout. He was involved in substantial stands for the third and fourth wickets alongside Nick Gubbins and Liam Dawson, with scoring rates of 4.91 and 4.96 respectively, which set the tempo for a confident reply to Kent’s first-innings total of 305.

Daniel Bell-Drummond, Kent’s centurion on day one, had admitted the feeling in the dressing room was “pretty mixed” after they had reached 271 for 7 at the close, and the sense that they had passed up the chance to post a really significant score deepened throughout Vince’s time at the crease. Although he fell shortly after reaching three figures, visibly aghast at steering tamely to slip off Nathan Gilchrist, Dawson proceeded past fifty at a good clip and was joined by Ben Brown in adding another, unbroken partnership before bad light took the players off early.

The wicket of Hampshire opener Ian Holland brought Vince to the crease, and he was quickly into his stride on a true surface, picking off Darren Stevens for three boundaries inside his first 15 balls. Gubbins elected to follow the skipper’s lead, and Kent were made to chase leather through a 20-over period in which the Hampshire pair scored 22 boundaries and took the total on by more than 100.

Vince was the first to raise fifty, from 48 balls with ten crisply struck fours; five of them coming during a costly two-over spell from Jackson Bird, Kent’s Australian seamer. Gubbins, though crabbier in aspect and slightly less secure – he slashed Gilchrist over the cordon on 10 and got away with an edge that didn’t carry, off Matt Milnes, on 33 – unfurled several good-looking strokes of his own, and brought up a 77-ball half-century with a whip through midwicket. His was the only wicket to fall, well caught by a diving Jordan Cox at slip after pushing forward at Gilchrist, as Hampshire rattled the score on by 172 runs between lunch and tea.

Vince had 82 from 87 at that stage, having eased off a touch while Dawson took up the cudgels. Kent’s problems were exacerbated when Bird left the field after another two-over spell – which this time included being hooked for six by Dawson – and Ollie Robinson was forced to turn to Bell-Drummond’s gentle seam-ups. Vince duly pulled a leg-side long hop for four, then produced possibly his only ungainly stroke in hacking Stevens through backward point, before a nudged single brought up his century, from 99 balls. Barring a couple of inside-edges that could, on another day, have disturbed his stumps, it was a chanceless knock.

Gilchrist was the standout bowler for Kent, claiming three of the four wickets to go down, but there was little assistance from either the surface or the conditions, despite persistent cloud cover. Only Milnes, who made the opening breakthrough when he had Joe Weatherley caught behind looking to drive, and offspinner Hamidullah Qadri, managed to go at less than four an over.

The morning session was notable for Hampshire completing a fine comeback with the second new ball that saw them whistle out the last seven Kent wickets for just 66 runs, in the wake of Bell-Drummond’s 149. Keith Barker picked up two more, including his 100th first-class wicket for Hampshire, to finish with figures of 24-10-53-6 – an illustration of the high standards that the Kent attack were subsequently unable to match.
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