Centurion Key puts Kent in command

<preform>Kent 254 & 405-6 dec Northamptonshire 250 </preform>
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Events on the pitch at Lord's and off it in Zimbabwe have had contrasting effects on Kent's exciting early-season momentum.

Events on the pitch at Lord's and off it in Zimbabwe have had contrasting effects on Kent's exciting early-season momentum.

Andrew Strauss' eye-opening Test debut will see to it that Robert Key remains down the England pecking order, despite converting his fourth century of the season into a county-best 173 at Northampton yesterday.

Andrew Symonds, though, one of the men with whom he ushered Kent towards a match-winning position, is packing his bags. The postponement of Australia's Test tour of Zimbabwe and subsequent rearrangement of the one-day series means he will be airborne from London tonight, instead of thinking about a Sunday thrash at Wantage Road.

Symonds, who misses two championship games while on duty with Australia, seemed on course for a century in each innings of a Kent match for the first time. He again struck the ball with awesome power in a third-wicket partnership with Key of 111 in 26 overs. And his departure for 61 - caught at short fine leg from a top-edged "paddle" off Usman Afzaal - was even more unexpected than the 9pm one he will make by jumbo.

By then, Kent should be celebrating their third championship victory and possibly leadership of the first division, via a game that has become one-sided after five sessions of overall parity. Resuming on 103-0, Kent declared on 405-6 after a batting performance containing spells of stagnation as well as refreshing stroke-play.

Key's 50 was reached from the day's second ball, he and David Fulton progressing hand-in-hand to much bigger things. A milestone came up in each of three successive overs from the 58th; first the 200 partnership, then the skipper's century (eight fours, 202 balls) finally his partner's, made from 46 deliveries fewer.

Key survived a chance to Ben Phillips on 82 and, in quick succession, lost Fulton, bowled round his legs by Afzaal, and Ed Smith before finding his second wind. He raced from 138 at tea to 173 barely 11 overs later, before skying a catch off Carl Greenidge to long-off. His marathon innings spanned 368 minutes and 255 balls, and contained four sixes and 20 fours.

Northamtponshire, nominally chasing 410 to win, started badly in reply, Tim Roberts losing his off stump to Mohammad Sami in the first over without offering a shot. Mark Powell was then caught behind, again off the hostile Sami.