Cricket: Ealham gives Kent something to celebrate

Hampshire 111-2 v Kent
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The Independent Online
It was not quite party time, but as birthdays go, Mark Ealham's 28th was not bad - once the weather relented, which it had by mid-afternoon. The Kent and England all-rounder came on straight after tea and by the time he took a well-deserved break two of the Hampshire batsmen had been snuffed out like so many birthday candles.

There was little surprise among the Hampshire faithful when the captain, John Stephenson, lost the toss, after all he had not won the previous six in the Championship, but what did raise eyebrows was the decision of his opposing captain, Steve Marsh, to field.

Perhaps the greenish tinge on the pitch persuaded him that there would be something in it for his bowlers. As things turned out there was not, but that was understandable. Just two weeks ago, on a pitch not far from the present one, more than 1,200 runs were amassed for the loss of 27 wickets when Yorkshire were the visitors.

On that occasion Giles White scored his maiden Championship century and the way he anchored himself at one end last night suggested that a quick follow-up would be a distinct possibility. He at least was not going to give Ealham his wicket.

He left that to Matthew Hayden, the prolific Australian. The left-hander had looked comfortable against the pace of Dean Headley and Ben Phillips, but the birthday boy was a different matter. He hardly seemed able to lay a bat on the ball and when Ealham eventually held one back it brought him a gift of a wicket as Hayden chipped the ball tamely to Headley at mid-off.

Jason Laney had not looked that much at ease, the odd superbly timed and placed shot sandwiched between stretches of uncertainty. He was still desperately unlucky to be dismissed the way he was. But the gods were smiling on Ealham.

Laney shaped to drive a delivery through the off, instead edged on to his left boot and thence to the stumps. Robin Smith, another century-maker against Yorkshire, and White, managed to steer Hampshire safely through to the close on an appropriate score given the proximity of the HMS Victory.