Cricket: Hampshire find it all uphill and into the wind

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The Independent Online
Kent 275

Hampshire 232-7

THERE were no blue skies here yesterday, but whatever the weather elsewhere plenty of cricket for all that. And pretty dry stuff it was, Hampshire not exactly making hogs of themselves in the free-scoring department as they ground out the day at around two an over. May's Bounty, you might say, without too much of the bountiful.

Still, anything was an improvement on what happened to Hampshire in their previous Championship meeting with Kent. Suddenly last summer they had the ground swept from under their feet at Canterbury. Losing by nine wickets, their second innings of 70 remained the lowest total of the season, besides presenting Martin McCague with the best return of 8 for 26.

McCague is currently hamstrung, but even without having to come face to face again with the 6ft 5in Irish-born fast bowler - nor, for that matter, his fellow injured new-ball partner, Alan Igglesden - there was no tempting Hampshire into an overdose of strokeplay. The trend-setter was Tony Middleton.

Hampshire resumed at 20 without loss, Middleton resuming what he does best: ie, blocking just about everything. Having tucked away seven more singles to reach double figures, there was relief all round when Fleming brought his 69-minute stay to an end. By then he had faced 55 balls.

Which was exactly the number sent Carl Hooper's way on day one, the only difference being that the West Indian helped himself to a half-century. Hampshire, meanwhile, appeared to have an answer to that sort of aggression, Robin Smith pulling Fleming savagely to the mid-wicket boundary and nearly decapitating Nigel Llong at short leg in the process.

He also struck Chris Penn straight for another four prior to Sean Morris, locked on 24 for 10 overs, departing leg before for Fleming. Hampshire's third loss in six overs, however, was the one that ruined any further fun from Smith.

Paul Terry, batting at No 4, steered Fleming to backward point and called for a single. Slow off the mark, wind against, and running up the slope, poor Smith was run out by a mile thanks to Trevor Ward's direct hit. What a grind, and it was underlined by Penn's 10 overs for a cost of 11 runs and only five singles taken in the last 10 overs before lunch.

But someone was needed to steady the ship and Mark Nicholas, the captain, did just that. In this he mixed business with pleasure, and that came by way of a hat-trick of boundaries off Fleming and a six off Richard Davis. Nicholas helped add 80 for the fourth wicket and 35 for the fifth and had made 73 in 218 minutes by the time he aimed an odd double paddle of a shot at Davis.