Cricket: Defiance from Llong as wickets tumble: Pitch battle for Kent and Somerset: Barrie Fairall reports from Taunton

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The Independent Online
Kent 144; Somerset 138-8

INITIAL reactions yesterday were to send for Harry Brind, the Test and County Cricket Board's Inspector of Pitches, let alone a full suit of body armour. On what looked like a minefield, though, things did quieten down once the new ball had lost its sting, but not before both contestants had lost half their wickets for 50 or under.

Chris Tavare had no hesitation in putting Kent in - and possibly with a gleam in his eye. He had, after all, parted company with the county in uneasy circumstances and now saw one last opportunity for satisfaction prior to his retirement at the end of the season.

Tavare also knew something that must have been worth a wicket or three. It was here on the same strip in May that Lancashire, needing only 88 to win, were rolled over for 72 when Andy Caddick charged in for the summer's best return of 9 for 32. Game, set and match inside two days and, even without Caddick, Tavare and the remainder of his cast may have had something similar in mind first thing.

Certainly, the pitch had a mottled appearance and Kent were looking a motley crew indeed with only single figures on the board and Trevor Ward, Neil Taylor and Carl Hooper dismissed in the space of 10 balls for the addition of three runs. At 50 for 5, even reaching three figures appeared beyond them.

A combination of Adrianus van Troost, who at 6ft 8in was gaining alarming lift on occasions, Neil Mallender and Graham Rose caused the early damage. But, as befits a man with 600 runs under his belt and sporting an average of 60, Nigel Llong managed to stand firm.

The left-hander had one narrow escape on two, edging van Troost to Rose in the slips. However, Llong, aided by Matthew Fleming, helped to add 46 for the sixth wicket and eventually reached a valuable half-century. He had faced 102 balls and hit seven fours and was still there after Mushtaq Ahmed had struck a blow for leg-spinners by wrapping up the innings with a post-lunch spell of 4 for 25 in 10.2 overs.

If Tavare wore a grin, it soon disappeared when the Somerset innings began to follow a similar pattern. The captain had his middle stump uprooted for a golden duck to give Mark Ealham two wickets in two balls. The score was 34 for 5 before the recovery started, Dean Headley finishing the day with 4 for 46 while Richard Harden was unbeaten on 72 and Somerset half a dozen in arrears with two wickets in hand.

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