Cricket: Derbyshire squander their early advantage

Kent 141 Derbyshire 172-6
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THERE WERE times when this resembled a one-day skirmish rather than a four-day battle. Matthew Walker apart, Kent's batsmen all chose to have a bad day at the office. And when Derbyshire's openers Michael Slater and Adrian Rollins hammered their way to a century partnership, the new Kent captain, Matthew Fleming, must have been at his wit's end.

To be lacking in one department (batting) may be deemed unfortunate; to be found wanting in the other (bowling) borders on carelessness. Not until Rollins and the pugnacious Slater had taken Derbyshire to within 10 runs of the pitiful Kent total did Fleming have anything to smile about.

That was when the overseas signing Andrew Symonds sent down a slower ball that deceived his compatriot Slater and furnished Fleming with a simple catch at mid-off.

The relief was palpable. Slater had punched and pulled his way to a good- looking 50, with a couple of exquisite sixes and eight fours. His timing and placing were examples of precision as he punished anything that was remotely wide or short - and there was plenty of that early on. He had presented one chance when the airborne Martin McCague failed to hang on to an uppish extra-cover drive.

As it turned out it did not matter much since the Australian managed to add just two more before perishing.

That left the stage to the in-form Rollins, who, having happily played second fiddle while Slater burned, then proceeded to pass 70 for his second successive Championship innings.

His was a good-looking effort as well. He gratefully accepted the short, wide deliveries that allowed him to exploit the off side almost unchallenged. But Slater's departure marked a change in Kent fortunes, or a dip in Derbyshire luck, depending on your perspective. Philip Weston saw a third run to Min Patel on the sweeper boundary, Rollins did not. Weston departed and was comprehensively run out.

When the confident Rollins overdid it driving at Dean Headley and was swallowed up at first slip the slide was on. Stephen Titchard, Matthew Cassar and Phillip DeFreitas all went quickly and suddenly things looked brighter for Kent. By the time bad light drove them all off with only a few overs remaining they had recovered much. Even so, they will reflect angrily that they threw away so much with the bat.

Walker's welcome half century was their only saving grace. He is an interesting parallel to Slater. The Australian made his first-class debut in 1991, just a year before the Kent man. Since then Slater has hammered 27 first- class hundreds and more than 50 half centuries, while Walker, long on promise but short on fulfilment, has racked up just two hundreds and now eight fifties.

Still, there was no denying the value of yesterday's effort as the diminutive batsman overcame some fine swing and seam bowling to battle his way to an uncharacteristically restrained 53. Left-armer Kevin Dean got the ball to swing and he and DeFreitas underscored the wisdom of Dominic Cork's decision to exploit the conditions. That final session, though, appeared to undo all the good early work leaving the match more evenly balanced.