ESSEX and Surrey may be setting the early pace in the County Championship, and Durham making headlines simply by winning, but keep an eye on Leicestershire. Third in the table after two wins in three games, they took a hold here yesterday by bowling Kent out for 157 and extending their lead from 47 to 257 by the close.
Although the pitch had eased since Friday, when Leicestershire struggled through 72 overs for 204, the best batting we saw yesterday came from the two West Indians, Carl Hooper and Phil Simmons, while Nigel Briers batted diligently for his 82. Having played second fiddle to Simmons in their opening stand of 78, the Leicestershire captain put on 97 with Phil Robinson for the fourth wicket.
In the morning it was the Leicestershire bowlers who caught the eye, getting so fired up that the umpires had to have a quiet word to calm them down. Alan Mullally also attracted attention for his running on the pitch, but apart from that perennial problem, the 24-year-old left-arm fast bowler chose a good day to turn in his best bowling of this soaking summer.
The England manager Keith Fletcher saw him hit the seam consistently in two hostile spells before lunch, and his dismissal of Hooper, lbw on the back foot to a ball that skidded through, put paid to Kent's hopes of capitalising on winning Friday's toss. David Millns, another hoping to attract the selectors, also bowled with pace and some penetration, but Hooper treated him with disdain whenever he dropped short.
By getting well forward, Hooper was able to counter any but the most excessive movement. He might have been caught at cover when 44 and was close to being lbw to Gordon Parsons soon after reaching his 50. But one glorious burst in which he took 14 off one Millns over was a reminder to Leicestershire of what he could be capable of tomorrow if Kent are chasing a target.
The way Simmons launched Leicestershire's second innings, it looked as if he would shut Kent out by tea. Sixes off Dean Headley cleared mid-on and square leg, and there were also five blasted fours before he skied Headley to Min Patel and set off for the pavilion for treatment to his damaged thumb.
Simmons's stay lasted only 50 balls but was fun while it lasted. So was some quick bowling by Kent's Duncan Spencer: it will be interesting to see him on a hard pitch. Batsmen and slips looked equally apprehensive as he fired in express deliveries from a well-grooved action, but it will take something special to stop Leicestershire.
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