Cricket: Bargain day for Hooper

Kent 218 and 377-7 declared Northamptonshire 391 Match drawn
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The Independent Online
CARL HOOPER was next in on the card and the sun was shining. So where were the crowds? Queueing up for sweetcorn and soap powder at Tesco's and Sainsbury's maybe. It's the kind of thing that happens when you have a grocer in charge of English cricket.

Mind you, the stay-aways had a point. Hooper did not appear until 12 minutes past noon, by which time three wickets had fallen, we were in the 19th over of the day, and the shine was going from both ball and sun. No wonder the populace supports county cricket in absentia instead of in its thousands. The game doesn't go out of its way to encourage men and women in the check-out lines.

Kent possibly had a reason for holding Hooper back after David Follett knocked over the nightwatchman's off stump in the third over. But it was never obvious, considering they had a game to save. Then Ben Phillips's dismissal left them with seven second-innings wickets in hand and 102 runs needed to avoid an innings defeat.

When Franklyn Rose spectacularly uprooted Chris Walsh's middle stump 11 overs later, and Alan Wells appeared ahead of Hooper, the mystery deepened. It took Ed Smith's edging of Paul Taylor's third ball to the wicketkeeper, to end it. Smith had taken almost 40 overs for his 33 and Kent were still 57 behind.

If Northamptonshire were entertaining thoughts of a third championship win, these were dispelled by Hooper's sixth 100 of the summer. The early stroke with which he thumped the young off-spinner Jason Brown past midwicket might have come from a member of the agricultural tendency, but as a manifesto it was ominous. Particularly for poor Brown.

Playing only his fifth Championship game this season, the 23-year-old had taken 24 wickets at less than 20 apiece and was showing fine control until Hooper launched a blow of unprecedented violence against his bowling and Northamptonshire's new indoor school which Earl Spencer will open today.

A second six off Brown caused consternation among owners with cars parked just wide of midwicket. It also took Kent to within a few runs of the 173 required to make Northamptonshire bat again.

Wells ensured this by steering Follett uppishly between the two slips for four. It would have been a terrific catch by either man. In the circumstances, it went down as a costly miss, as was a later chance that went begging at fine-leg. Wells was 28 and 43 respectively, and the sixth-wicket stand of 176 he shared with Hooper in 51 overs shut lowly Northamptonshire out of the game.

As for Hooper, he toyed with the bowling like a heavyweight sparring with featherweights. His eventual 157 not out included 16 fours and four sixes, including two more off successive balls from Brown, and occasionally there was elegance to match the violence. Overall, though, the sound of his bat smacking leather should have cleared every supermarket within the city limits.

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