Cricket: Ealham strikes equality

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The Independent Online
Surrey 464 and 136-1

Kent 467

BOWLERS have to bend their backs on this wicket for signs of the high life but there were no suggestions here that, at 32, Joey Benjamin was past it. Quite the reverse, in fact, as Kent discovered. Their own backs were to the wall when the Surrey seamer sent back Trevor Ward and by the time he had wiped out the complete front five he was celebrating his 50th victim of the summer.

It was a tremendous effort when you might have expected Waqar Younis to come up with the surprise delivery packages. Benjamin, though, charged down the slope from the Nackington Road end and was rewarded with three wickets for five runs in 20 balls on a pitch that was handing out centuries to bowlers and batsmen alike.

Kent had a sizeable total to chase, and it was Ward, with his first Championship century of the season, making the inroads. He was driving confidently, too, toward the 150 mark, when Benjamin found the finest of edges to cut him off at 141. By then, Ward and Carl Hooper had added 148 for the third wicket in 33 overs.

Nothing seemed more certain at this stage than a second century of the season for Hooper. In his relaxed fashion, he was making batting appear desperately easy until Benjamin surprised him in the 16th over of the day to win a leg-before decision. Hooper had made 81 and the one blemish was a top-edged attempted hook off Benjamin, which only just cleared Graham Kersey's gloves to give him one of his 10 boundaries.

Kent were then 316 for 4 and they were 318 for 5 when Benjamin served up a full toss which Nigel Llong played all round and had his leg stump uprooted for a duck. Matthew Fleming next crashed Tony Murphy to Darren Bicknell at cover point and, unusually for such a cavalier cricketer, had faced 19 deliveries without troubling the scorers.

All the troubles at this stage were Kent's. As the last over before lunch began, Neil Taylor, who had just straight-driven Neil Kendrick for the first six of the match, was bowled by an express delivery from Waqar. It was Kent's fifth loss for 85 in 34 overs. And, with three wickets in hand, they were still 113 adrift.

Help was on hand and Steve Marsh chipped in with a useful 31 in a stand of 56 with Mark Ealham, before holing out to Murphy at mid-on off Kendrick. Ealham, by then, had his eye in as a six and a four in succession off Andy Smith would suggest.

Ealham continued to lift Kent towards equality and had struck eight boundaries by the time he reached a well-deserved half-century, and had added 43 in 10 overs with Chris Penn before the slow left-armer Kendrick jumped in with a caught and bowled.

Kent were 450 for 9, Surrey's sting by now drawn, and they went in to a three-run lead, thanks to a soaring six over mid-wicket from Penn, who, in attempting to repeat the shot against Kendrick, was last out for 23.

That left four sessions to go with the onus on Surrey to make a match of it. Middlesex may be fast disappearing over the horizon, but these two high rollers have to win and hope. Surrey, though worried over a Waqar hamstring, are now working towards a target to tempt Kent with a century stand between Bicknell and David Ward giving them a lead of 133.