Kent pace bowler Matt Henry bagged 6-31 to leave Northamptonshire reeling on 71-8 when bad light and rain ended prematurely an action-packed opening day of Specsavers County Championship action.

On a thrilling day when 18 wickets fell, Henry – the New Zealand Test firebrand – took his season’s red-ball wicket tally to 56 as the Specsavers County Championship Division 2 promotion hopefuls recovered from a poor batting display to leave the visitors 66 runs in arrears by the time the umpires stopped the contest and took the sides off for bad light just before 5pm.

Northamptonshire struggled to cope with the guile of Kentish veteran Darren Stevens and the pace of Henry, the Championship’s leading wicket-taker.

The Kiwi set out his stall early, taking Ben Curran’s wicket in the first over before going on to claim the scalps of Ricardo Vasconcelos, Alex Wakely, Richard Levi, Nathan Buck and Alex Rossington on the way to his fifth five-for of the summer.

Stevens – who shared the new ball from the other end – took the remaining wickets of Luke Procter and Saif Zaib, and it was only when the pair were given a well deserved rest that Northamptonshire managed a partnership of note, Brett Hutton and Richard Gleeson increasing the total from 44-8 when Rossington fell to 71-8 at the close.

The form with the bat was in stark contrast to the way Northamptonshire’s bowlers had taken game by the scruff of the neck in the opening session-and-a-half.

Batting first after an uncontested toss, Kent’s top-order were soon in trouble against the new ball and under leaden skies and had lost both openers within five overs. 

Zak Crawley, fending down the line of off stump, feathered a Hutton away-swinger through to the keeper, then, seven balls later, Sean Dickson went back and across his stumps to miss an off-cutter from Ben Sanderson and depart leg before.

Experienced third-wicket partners Joe Denly and Heino Kuhn took advantage of the short St Lawrence boundaries to keep the board ticking over at a decent rate and raise the home 50 after 15 overs. But, with his score on 16, Kuhn played around a full in-swinger from Buck to also go LBW.

Having batted 76 minutes for his 14, Denly’s late decision to withdraw the bat outside off stump against Gleeson proved fatal as the ball glanced off the bat face and through to the keeper.

Batting under floodlights after lunch, Kent’s position quickly became gloomier as they lost their last six wickets for 46 runs inside 18 overs.

Sam Billings nicked off against Gleeson, Stevens prodded at Sanderson to become the third leg before victim and, having scratched around for 98 minutes for 23, Daniel Bell-Drummond edged behind.

Sanderson ran one in off the seam to peg back Grant Stewart’s off stump, then Buck polished the job off with two wickets in as many balls. Henry heaved across the line to lose off stump then Ivan Thomas was caught on the crease and palpably leg before as Kent succumbed inside 47 overs with Gleeson, Sanderson and Buck claiming three wickets apiece.

But the positivity was soon forgotten and Kent will go into day two firmly in the driver’s seat.