Cricket: Felton calm before storm

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Kent 196 and 141-1 dec

Northants 85-2 dec and 108-1

Match drawn

WITHOUT resorting to the cliche that Northamptonshire were robbed, Robert Bailey, their acting captain, said that he was confident of victory until rain ended the match between two of the County Championship contenders here yesterday.

Either second-placed Kent or Northamptonshire, one rung lower, needed to win to put the pressure on Essex, the leaders, who had no game and escaped the ravages of the weather in the final set of three-day matches.

With this uppermost in mind, Bailey admitted he had a pact with Mark Benson, the Kent captain, to produce a positive result. This probably deprived Trevor Ward of a worthy century when Benson kept his side of the bargain by declaring just before lunch. They even played in the rain after tea for half an hour until the umpires ruled that conditions were unfit.

When stumps were drawn, Northamptonshire required another 145 to win with nine wickets intact and an asking rate of 5.17 an over needed from the 28 left. They were also chasing their first victory in the Championship over Kent for 15 years. Nigel Felton had just reached his 10th Championship half-century of the season to make the original target of 253 from 69 overs look generous.

Benson agreed that it was. He said: 'I wish someone would set us totals like that to chase, especially as only two wickets fell in almost a whole day. To come out of this game with only one point was very disappointing for us.' Bailey conceded that without Allan Lamb and David Ripley, Northamptonshire's lower batting would have lacked experience if two wickets had fallen quickly but the pitch had become slower and less daunting than on the first day.

Lamb and Ripley will return for the match against Middlesex starting at Northampton tomorrow but the fitness of Curtly Ambrose remained in doubt. He was awaiting results of a scan on the injured knee which enforced his absence from this game.

An opening partnership of 80 from 32 overs between Felton and Alan Fordham was geared perfectly to the required run-rate before Fordham was athletically caught by the diving Matthew Fleming at mid-off.

Bailey barely had time to play himself in before rain followed tea. Information from the scorers about the half-century maker was that Felton was 145 minutes, 118 balls, two fours and wet.

An innings of 95 not out from Ward in the morning had occupied only 110 minutes and 89 balls, with a six and 11 fours. His driving in the V, from mid-on to extra cover, was admirable, especially as his runs came from authentic bowlers.

On the four-day run-in, Kent will fancy their chances, especially at Canterbury against Glamorgan and Gloucestershire but Benson acknowledged that Essex potentially need only two wins from their remaining four matches to take the title. He did not add that this target was comfortably within the power of the champions but everyone from Durham to Taunton is already well aware of that.

County reports, Scoreboard, page 27