Cricket: Champions ground down by Kent

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The Independent Online
THE run rate was down to a trickle at The Mote, but as this appears to be the norm on day one of Championship four-dayers, Kent would have been feeling reasonably pleased with themselves. After all, tea had been taken by the time they passed 200 and at less than three an over they were doing a splendid job in grinding out the necessary against Essex.

It was tough on spectators yesterday, mind, though following some early and late alarms it was just as well that Mark Benson and Nigel Llong got their collective heads down. And while a stand of 158 for the fourth wicket may have suggested that the floodgates had opened, spread across 53 overs it showed that the grafters were at work in keeping the champions at bay.

Both sides were missing a player or two thanks to Test calls and injuries. Duncan Spencer and Bobby Parks were making their debuts for Kent, while Essex introduced Darren Robinson, Darren Cousins and Robert Rollins, the last of these a late arrival after being hauled out of a Second XI match at Ilford.

Rollins arrived just in time to see the start of a Kent slide in which three wickets tumbled for 26. Benson and Trevor Ward had opened with a half-century partnership, but when Essex called up John Stephenson things began to happen rather too quickly for home comfort. The Essex seamer was on a roll having taken five wickets in the win over Warwickshire and Ward, who had packed five boundaries into making 30, snicked one to Robinson at second slip.

Neil Taylor went next leg before after just one scoring stroke, but the real disappointment was the loss of Carl Hooper. The West Indian was going for his shots as usual but at this stage the wicket was doing a bit and he managed to sky the ball to

Jonathan Lewis at point attempting a big drive.

At three down for 79, Essex were looking happy with their morning's work on this lovely ground as they came off for lunch. As for Stephenson, his appetite had been whetted by a spell of 11 overs in which he had taken 3 for 27. From Kent's point of view, the rebuilding process was to occupy their thoughts.

Benson, of course, was in his element in this situation and as the afternoon wore on few would have bet against him not acquiring his fourth century of the season. As it was, when John Childs came on to bowl the 90th over, Benson pulled the slow left- armer to fine-leg and was easily run out by Stephenson.

Benson had made 96, and 237 for 4 became 248 for 5 when Llong, closing on his third hundred of the summer, attempted to pull Childs and was leg before. And so it was back to rebuilding again, Mark Ealham and Matthew Fleming reaching a half-century partnership before the close.