Cricket: Hooper in full flight

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The Independent Online
Kent 445-9 dec and 230-3

Essex 440-9 dec

FOR a few overs either side of tea yesterday it seemed as if bowling on this flawless strip of turf was not a complete waste of energy after all. Having declared five runs behind, Essex had collected two cheap wickets, some unpleasant clouds were massing and Kent were fretting.

At this juncture, Carl Hooper decided to remind us why he has usurped David Gower as the most eloquent spokesman for elegant batsmanship. Footwork to the fore, the Guyanan soon removed John Childs from the front line, easing two sumptuous sixes beyond the marquees while gathering 25 from the spinner's two overs. Just to rub it in, Mark Benson was downed at slip at the other end.

After relinquishing the initiative while Derek Pringle and Mike Garnham were bringing a callow Essex side close to parity in a lively seventh-wicket stand of 126, in which both achieved their highest scores of the season, Kent had now wrested it back and were not about to let go again.

Responding to his partner's vigorous lead, Benson began to club the ball to all parts, the third-wicket duo collaborating for 113 in 24 overs before the Kent captain drove slackly to mid-on to give the pacy Darren Cousins - one of Essex's trio of Championships debutants - a worthy first scalp.

Hooper carried on regardless, gliding to his second 50 from just 34 balls as he creamed Steve Andrew through the covers to reach what was, remarkably, his first century of what has nevertheless been a productive season. Between tea and the close, 104 runs in all issued from his blade. Under that trademark wide- brimmed sunhat, those narrow eyes and impassive features suggest someone auditioning to be the new Man With No Name. Over the next few years, however, few players are likely to be less anonymous.