Cricket: Essex fall to hold of Strang

Kent 525-9 dec Essex 156 & 361 Kent win by innings & 8 runs
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The Independent Online
The skipper Paul Prichard lashed himself to the wheel as the Essex ship went down, spun out of control by Paul Strang. The Zimbabwean leg-spinner netted his third five-wicket haul of the season as Kent's innings victory took them back to the top of the table, however briefly. It is getting mighty congested up there, but after this smooth and controlled performance Kent look in shape to challenge for a first Championship title since 1978.

Batting in extreme discomfort after damaging a hamstring when on 69 - which must threaten his role in Tuesday's NatWest semi-final against Glamorgan - Prichard was denied three moments of satisfaction after a heroic performance that had surely earned them all. He deserved to carry his bat but was at last undone by Martin McCague and the new ball, 90 minutes into the morning; he fell 21 runs short of his highest score; and was just nine runs away from asking Kent to bat a second time.

Prichard's cause was a hopeless one, of course, but the richness of cricket allows one to revel in such epic cussedness. McCague bowled Essex out of a match that his batting colleagues had already insured against defeat, when in a Thursday-evening spell of inspired ferocity he blew away the top of the Essex order.

Kent's security was based on a first hundred for his new club by Alan Wells, a cavalier career-best 138 by Matthew Fleming, and inspired lower- order hustling by Steve Marsh and Strang. On Friday morning, the fast- bowling doctor from Guy's Hospital, Julian Thompson, completed McCague's work, and Essex were sunk.

At the start of this sun-drenched game, Essex were fourth in the table, just two points behind Kent, but they have suddenly found their strength in depth sorely tested. Mark Ilott and Ashley Cowan missed this match through injury (though they may return to the team today), Nasser Hussain is on England duty, and of the settled side that took them up the table Graham Gooch has spontaneously combusted. Much depended on their valuable Australian Stuart Law, but he chose this game for a rare double failure, and their signing from Sussex, Danny Law, has yet to show his potential. Of the young side that Essex are bringing forward, Tim Hodgson took the daunting No 3 position and looked promising.

Kent, shepherded by the former New Zealand opener John Wright, had a sprightlier look at this stage of the season, with impressive injury-cover and alternatives for all roles - Matthew Walker is out of form, for example - but a man with a career-best 275 not out loses touch only briefly - while the former Test bowler Alan Igglesden competes with Thompson for the third seamer slot behind McCague and Dean Headley.

Today's one-day game, by lucky chance, has as much spice in Canterbury Festival week as the Championship fixture - the teams lie joint third in the table at start of play.

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