Cavalier Fleming delays collapse

Cricket: Kent 225 and 241-6 Surrey 360
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Matthew Fleming wrote recently that Kent are a side whose glass is always half-full rather than half-empty. This admirably optimistic approach was only briefly justified at The Oval yesterday as they retrieved a first-innings deficit of 135 in cavalier style, with two wickets down, before losing three more on the same score shortly afterwards.

At 241 for 6, 106 ahead, prospects of a second victory for last season's wooden spoonists looked slender. Fleming's consolation was a personal contribution of 56 off 60 balls, bristling with aggression, that evened up the argument about his merits as an opener in the Championship.

Pinch-hitting in the Benson and Hedges, the critics had suggested, was one thing; laying foundations for a four-day haul, another one altogether. After scores of 8, 18 and 0, Fleming had decided to revert to doing what came naturally: knocking the shine off the ball. A hearty pull and then a fizzing straight drive in Martin Bicknell's early overs soon countered any hints of fading self-belief. One pull went over the slips, but two others off Adam Hollioake ended up in the empty seats at midwicket. Smiting Hollioake high past extra cover for a 12th boundary, Fleming completed a remarkable half-century in just 15 scoring strokes, off 47 balls. With the run-rate five an over, Surrey were not sorry to bid him goodbye three overs later, when he took evasive action against Chris Lewis but left his hands in a vulnerable place to glove the ball to Brendon Julian at gully.

It will be interesting to see who makes way for Mark Benson once the captain is fully recovered from his knee injury; he hopes to play for the second team at Maidstone tomorrow.

There was only one more success for the home side before the deficit was wiped out. Trevor Ward, never quite set, gave the easiest of catches to Lewis at second slip off Bicknell, who had switched to the Vauxhall End. When David Fulton, Carl Hooper and Mark Ealham all went soon after lunch, however, Kent were effectively 26 for 5. The glass was clearly half-empty.

Fulton, also playing for his place as an opener after a disappointing 1995, had hit nine fours - several with a flourish - but after surviving a confident shout for leg before against Bicknell, he reached for a wider one and let the keeper, Graham Kersey, make up for some untidy work earlier with a low catch.

Hooper had hoisted Richard Pearson - Surrey's new spinner, now with his third county in five seasons - into the front row of the pavilion before tea. Pearson had his revenge when the Guyanan tried to pull a ball well outside off-stump and top-edged to mid-on. In Pearson's next over, Alec Stewart at mid-off took a goalkeeper's catch to dismiss Ealham for a duck.

Graham Cowdrey and Steve Marsh dug in. Pearson bowled unchanged from 12.30pm until tea and Lewis, used in very short bursts, kept the initiative with Surrey by snaring Marsh leg before after a stand of 69.