Kent improved their prospects of overhauling second division leaders Essex after dominating the first day of their Specsavers County Championship match against Sussex at Hove.
Bowling first on a seamer-friendly surface, Kent reduced Sussex, another of the promotion outsiders, to 9 for 3 and then 70 for 6 before a half-century by captain Ben Brown helped Sussex recover to 180.
By the time Kent replied the pitch had lost much of its early venom and although Steve Magoffin removed Kent’s top three, Sam Billings celebrated his call-up for next week’s T20 international against Pakistan with an attractive 64 as his side closed on 211 for 5, a lead of 31.
Sussex coach Mark Davis said: “The wicket is a bit up and down and it was tough against the new ball but to get to 180 was actually a pretty decent comeback considering the start we had. I thought Ben Brown counter-attacked really well, in those sorts of situations he tends to play well.
“We’ve got a fairly inexperienced top five and it showed on that wicket against a good Kent attack. I felt a bit for Tom Haines getting a duck on his debut but in the long-term I think he is a very fine prospect.
“If we can restrict them to a lead of around 90-100 then try and set them around 200 to win it could be a good game but there’s lots of hard work ahead of us first.”
It was a tough day for Sussex, who were without nine players. Skipper Luke Wright (elbow) was one of six missing through injury, Jofra Archer was attending a funeral in Barbados and Chris Jordan and Ed Joyce are on international duty.
In their absence, they gave a first-class debut to 17-year-old opener Tom Haines while Fynn Hudson-Prentice and Craig Cahopa made their first Championship appearances of the summer.
Haines, who gloved to second slip for a fifth-ball duck, was one of two early victims for the evergreen Darren Stevens, who bowled 11 overs with the new ball while Hudson-Prentice (5) was lbw to Matt Coles to leave Sussex in early strife.
Cachopa and Chris Nash (16) effected a recovery of sorts but then Nash was needlessly run out when Cachopa played the ball into a leg-side gap and Sean Dickson, running back from short leg, beat the diving Nash with the accuracy of his return as he came back for a third run.
Cachopa (19) and David Wiese (4) both fell to South African Hardus Viljoen as Sussex stumbled to 70 for 6 before Brown led a gutsy fightback, first with Ollie Robinson with whom he shared 56 in 37 balls for the seventh wicket, and later Ajmal Shahzad, with whom he added 45 for ninth.
Brown hit ten fours in 54 off 47 deliveries before Mitch Claydon wrapped up the innings with the final two wickets including Brown, caught off a mis-timed pull.
Sussex’s need for early breakthroughs in response was answered by Magoffin, who has taken 15 of his 40 Championship wickets in his last three games. Dickson (8) and Daniel Bell-Drummond (20) departed with 54 on the board and the Australian struck again in his first over after tea, ending a stand of 47 when skipper Joe Denly (48) spoilt a promising start with a careless waft outside off stump.
Sam Northeast (44) was held at second slip off Ajmal Shahzad, who is playing his first Championship game for nearly two months, but Billings and Stevens took Sussex into the lead as they added 54 for the fifth wicket before Billings, having struck ten boundaries, was lbw to Wiese working to leg.
Stevens was dropped at second slip by Nash on eight but saw Kent through to stumps with Will Gidman.
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