Cricket: Ealham gives Kent the final edge

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The Independent Online
Hampshire 243-9; Kent 244-8

Kent win by two wickets

SO MUCH for the dress rehearsal to tomorrow's Benson & Hedges Cup final at Lord's, the two finalists sizing one another up here yesterday in the NatWest Trophy and, after some lengthy formalities, Kent gaining the tactical edge in a gripping finish.

There were five balls remaining when Mark Ealham, his nerves just about intact and soon to receive the man-of-the-match award, secured the last two of his 33 runs to steer Kent into the third round at the expense of the holders.

Kent needed to make 244 off their 60 overs, a reasonable enough target but one that was slipping away from them at several stages. Trevor Ward, though, made 92 at the sharp end of the innings and Ealham, coming in at No 8, blunted the Hampshire strike force when it threatened in fading light.

With cloud hovering low over the County Ground, Kent had initially looked to play swing ball by putting Hampshire in. Movement in the air and off the pitch was hardly exaggerated, though, and Paul Terry and Tony Middleton went quietly about their business.

It was not until the 34th over, and with 108 on the board, that the pair were separated, Middleton taken smartly at slip off Alan Igglesden for 43. A patient crowd now anticipated a few fireworks, but the big two came in and went off like damp squibs. First, Robin Smith was beaten by a superb throw when attempting a suicidal second run to Martin McCague at backward square leg, while David Gower never reached double figures, chipping Richard Davis gently to Carl Hooper at mid-on.

At the other end, Terry kept his cool and his wicket to reach his fourth century in the competition and he and Mark Nicholas had added 61 for the fourth wicket before the captain was run out by Hooper. When Terry made his exit, three runs later and after a 188- minute vigil, Hampshire were truly on the downward spiral.

This was due largely to Matthew Fleming, who whipped out Kevan James, Marshall, and Shaun Udal in a spell of wreckage reading 3 for 2 in seven deliveries.

Hampshire had lost their last six wickets for 31. Was it terminal? Yes it was, just. Ward, looking for company in a 144-ball stay that included a six and five fours, found it in Hooper. They put on 92 for the third wicket and the rest was down to Ealham, fast running out of partners but still there to make the winning hit.