Cricket: Hick error hands Kent control

Kent 119 & 350 Worcestershire 106 & 280-6
THE OUTCOME here will probably hinge on one bad decision. It came when Worcestershire were going well enough that the 364 runs they needed to defeat Kent had become a much less daunting proposition than had at first seemed. Critically, it cost them the wicket of Graeme Hick.

Given that he was one run short of his 106th first-class century, it was a regrettable moment for Hick on a personal level also. David Leatherdale flicked a ball from Min Patel behind square, Hick thought there was a run but his partner did not. Dean Headley swooped to field, threw to the wicketkeeper and Hick, who had slipped in turning back, was hopelessly stranded.

Worcestershire, dismissed for 106 on a generally shambolic Friday, appeared to have been batted out of contention as Matthew Fleming, the scorer of a superb century on Saturday, continued his innings yesterday morning to equal his career best. He reached 138 before scooping a catch to midwicket off the off-spinner Vikram Solanki, who was pressed into extended service and finished with four wickets.

But with a hot sun shining out of a cloudless sky, the bowlers were denied the encouraging conditions of the first day and the failure, notably, of Headley to make an early breakthrough, offered hope for the home side. Abdul Hafeez, the young opener, was a casualty but Hick had valuable support first from Philip Weston and then Solanki as Worcestershire chalked off half the requirement for the loss of three wickets with still, at that point, a day and a half left.

Hick, whose first 53 came off 100 balls with nine fours, slipped into imperious mode, advancing to 92 from only a further 25 deliveries, taking a particularly heavy toll of Andrew Symonds' off-breaks, which clearly are not his strongest suit. Solanki, fancying his chances, was stumped trying to hit over the top and although Tom Moody failed against the ever- troublesome Mark Ealham, it still seemed quite on the cards that Hick would take the match by the scruff.

But the loss of Moody triggered a period of circumspection from Hick, whose next seven runs needed 34 balls. When communication with Leatherdale fatefully broke down, the match began to slip towards Kent.

Leatherdale, dropped on 24, gave a return catch to Patel on 31, after which Steve Rhodes and Stuart Lampitt withdrew behind the barricades, so to speak, adding only 16 runs in the last 15 overs. Kent remain favourites but, needing 84 more to secure a third consecutive Championship win, the home side cannot quite be ruled out.