Cricket: Stewart rallies Surrey

Surrey 124 & 288-3 Kent 220
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It was as if the pitch at the St Lawrence Ground had suddenly realised it had to mend its ways for such an important occasion. After a dark-suited visitation from Lord's had pondered over the surface before the start and during lunch, Alec Stewart proceeded to play as fine an innings as anyone has seen all summer, Stuart Law and Ricky Ponting included.

With sensible help from Darren Bicknell, who made his second hundred of the summer, they put Surrey in charge of the match with a third-wicket stand of 219. The nasty bounce, which had caused problems on Thursday, had for some extraordinary reason almost completely disappeared on a day which saw bad light claim 35 overs.

The pitch had not behaved well on the first day, but when the ball moves around and bounces as it did then, modern techniques are hard-pressed to cope. Brian Fitch is a most experienced groundsman and it was almost certainly not as under-prepared as it had then seemed. There can surely be no question of docking Kent any Championship points after this, although the dark- suited visionaries wished to see more of the match before issuing a statement.

Stewart has not had the best of seasons with the bat, but now he began to play expansively from the start. He had made a single by lunch after Mark Ealham had sent back Mark Butcher with a return catch and Jason Ratcliffe to a superb slip catch by Trevor Ward off successive balls.

After the interval, Stewart treated the bowling with near-disdain. There was a dismissive certainty about many of his strokes which, allied to excellent timing and placing, did little for Kent's Championship hopes. He drove with a classical elegance, those familiar strokes through midwicket have never gone more sweetly off his bat and he pulled the short stuff as if he was teaching some rowdy teenagers an overdue lesson.

He went to his hundred with the third of three pulls for four off the first three balls of a new spell from Alan Igglesden. The runs had come from 90 balls and included 19 fours, figures which speak most emphatically.

Bicknell had the luck to be dropped when he was 30 by Graham Cowdrey, who failed to hold a hot one to his left at first slip off Ealham. Otherwise, he also played some fine strokes, reaching his hundred from 173 balls.