Cricket: Fulton's finest too little, too late

Surrey 124 and 371 Kent 220 and 276-5 Kent won by five wickets
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At the last, when the season had all but dribbled away, Kent showed they had the will for the fight. Twice this summer they had lost their nerve, a match and a trophy. In July it was the Benson and Hedges Cup, when their batting was found want- ing on the big stage, and last Sunday they let the Axa Life Sunday title slip forlornly from their grasp with another poor exhibition of batsmanship.

But yesterday at Canterbury with the Championship still nominally at stake and before a public who clearly adore them, they surmounted a challenging target of 276 to overcome Surrey by five wickets. Of course, it was too little, too late. Their destiny had already been taken out of their own hands by their stuttering performance on the last day of their penultimate match against Yorkshire and then by their failure to gain maximum bonus points in this contest. Maybe, then, it was the lack of pressure which helped them through so convincingly.

Still, their eighth victory of the season was as refreshing as any of the others. They lost two wickets in reaching 63 - clearly intent on going for their shots - but made good progress throughout the afternoon against some bowling which was end-of-season and might have had Glamorgan supporters at the end of their tether. David Fulton put on 53 for the third wicket with Alan Wells and a brisk 85 with Graham Cowdrey for the fourth. The going was good. Fulton made his maiden Championship century. It was assertive and pleasant. Before the innings his average for the season was 35 - too often the score on which he had got out.

The opener has exasperated his coaches by his tendency to give an innings away when he is apparently bedded in. He had reached 110 from 223 balls and hit 14 fours when he drove an unthreatening ball from Mark Butcher back to the bowler. Job not quite done once more but at least it was enough to demonstrate that he has what it takes.

At 210 for 5 Kent might have been in a spot of bother even when confronted with a Surrey team who gave the slightest hint that they were not fully committed to the matter in hand. That reckoned without the batting of the lower middle order which has been largely responsible for sustaining their challenge on so many fronts this summer. Matthew Fleming struck a violent 41 from 26 balls which included a brutal six over point. He was accompanied by the estimable Mark Ealham whose value to his county can only increase over the coming seasons if England continue to fail to recognise it.

The morning was marked by Surrey batting as they had on the first day. Their last seven wickets went down for 79 and though the ball swung it did not do so in a manner which suggested such a collapse. The behaviour of the pitch on the first day brought punishment for Kent from the ECB's pitches panel. It decided that the surface had not been suitably prepared for the start of a four-day match and issued a formal warning. Another poor pitch within a year and there will be a 10 point penalty.

That was a sad end to the career of the respected long-serving groundsman Brian Fitch. It was a sad end too for Kent (and the county may have issued the groundsman instructions) but in the end, thankfully, it was not the pitch that settled matters.