Yorkshire endured a chastening first day against Kent at Emerald Headingley, with veteran Darren Stevens smashing a fabulous career best 237 to recover his side from early strife.

Duanne Olivier impressed with four wickets in seven overs with the new ball as Kent slipped to 39-5 in the early stages of this penultimate round Specsavers County Championship battle, only for them to close on 482 for eight from 96 overs.

The South African quick even bowled his former Test captain Francois du Plessis for a four-ball duck.

But, from then on, it was a day to forget for the hosts.

Not that 43-year-old Stevens will ever forget it as he tries to win a new contract at Kent having been told in July that he would no longer be required after 15 years at Canterbury.

In excellent batting conditions, he and England limited overs fringe wicketkeeper-batsman Sam Billings, who also reached an understated century after tea, broke records aplenty to change the complexion of a fixture which sees both sides chasing a third-placed finish in Division One.

They shared 346 inside 65 overs for the sixth wicket from mid-morning to mid-evening, vindicating the decision to bat first.

It was a Kent record sixth-wicket partnership and the highest ever for that wicket on this ground. It was also the highest partnership for any wicket in Championship cricket this season.

Stevens also posted the highest score by a Kent batsman against Yorkshire, with this his first 100 plus score since May 2017.

The White Rose, for whom debutant spinner Ajaz Patel was expensive (1-119 from 15 overs), made a flying start.

While Olivier was rewarded, Matthew Fisher was excellent from the other end (Emerald Stand).

Olivier bowled a much fuller length than usual and picked up the prized wicket of former colleague du Plessis, debuting for Kent in red ball cricket after a short spell in T20 cricket last month.

Du Plessis, warming up for a forthcoming Test series in India, was bowled through the gate by an in-ducker as the score fell to eight for three in the fifth over.

Earlier, in the third, Oliver trapped Zak Crawley lbw and had Ollie Robinson caught behind as both attempted to leave alone.

Olivier’s fourth wicket – another compatriot Heino Kuhn, trapped lbw – came after Daniel Bell-Drummond lost his off stump to one which kept low from Fisher in the eighth over (22-4).

From there, Billings, who reached his hundred off 157 balls, and Stevens steadied the ship, with the latter particularly positive as confidence grew.

He successfully hit over the top on the off-side on a couple of occasions before launching left-arm spinner Patel for a straight six to reach a 59-ball fifty in the final over before lunch.

Stevens also clipped Steve Patterson for six over mid-wicket shortly after lunch and hit Patel for another in the same area on the way to a 129-ball century – his first since one against former county Leicestershire in the early stages of 2017.

Not without luck, he went from 51 to 191 in an afternoon session which yielded 204 runs in 36 overs. He offered a number of difficult chances, although on 149 offered an easy chance to Olivier off Fisher at mid-on.

Seven of Stevens’ sixes came off Patel before holing out to the Kiwi (385-6 in the 75th over). He received congratulations from all the Yorkshire players and a rousing reception from the home faithful.

Billings was caught in the gully off Olivier (5-108 from 24) for 138 late in the day, while Fisher also struck again.

What they said…

Yorkshire coach Andrew Gale

“The first half hour was very good, but from then on in it was poor – very poor.

“Fair play to Stevo, he played well. We just bowled both sides at him and couldn’t create any pressure.

“We know what works at Headingley, top of off-stump for long periods of time. We just couldn’t do that.

“The energy in the field was also poor, dropped catches in mid-afternoon. We’re lucky they haven’t got 700 on the board at the end of play there.

“That was well, well below par from the standards we set ourselves.

“We’ve got to come back in the morning, bowl them out and bat well. It’s as simple as that.

“Duanne bowled nicely early on. To have them 39 for five after they elected to bat, you’re thinking, ‘Can we bowl them out for under 150 and kill the game early on?’ That was what we didn’t manage to do last week (at Somerset).

“From 11am onwards, we haven’t managed to build any pressure. When you’re slightly off against a player like that, he will crucify you.

“We have to bat well. It will do a bit with the new ball, but it’s not a quick pitch. It’s slow and didn’t do that much. We have to get stuck in and show some grit and determination. If lads get an opportunity to get in, they’ve got to go big.”

Kent’s Darren Stevens

“The big thing was we were in trouble at 39-5 with myself and Sam (Billings) on nought.

“It was a tough situation, but at 10.30am at Headingley it’s going to nibble around a bit.

“When I came in, I just said, ‘I’m going to be positive – run hard, try and get off strike, tick it over’. That was it really. We were in serious strife.

“My intent was up. Any bit of width or anything full, I was putting my hands through it.

“I don’t know what else to say really.

“When you’re in situations like that, it’s a case of, ‘Let’s try and get to 150, to 180, then to 200’. But it kept going.

(His previous best of 208 is on his Twitter handle) “I’m going to have to change it, but I’ll deal with that in time.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s just the situation of the game. They’re a good bowling line-up, and we were 39 for five. We’ve done our job to get us in a good position.

“There could be a case for declaring (overnight) because it’s nipped around in the morning, but I reckon we’ll keep batting.

“I’m loving playing and want to play for another year. My body’s good, I’m bowling my overs and getting my runs now, and I want to keep playing. Yes, it will come to an end, but at the minute it’s not that time. I’d love to stay. I don’t want to move away from Kent. Let’s see.”

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