Cricket: Irani's stand keeps Kent at bay

Kent v Essex
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The Independent Online
RONNIE IRANI'S defiance on the bridge of the good ship Essex yesterday evoked sunny Canterbury memories of a bloody-minded innings by Paul Pritchard on the same ground exactly two years ago. Pritchard tore a hamstring when he had scored 54, and Essex were in a hopeless position. But he stood on one leg and wafted a further 170 runs, delaying Kent celebrations until Saturday afternoon.

Irani had even greater ambitions - for Essex to grind out an unlikely draw. With wickets tumbling elsewhere in the country, this was proper cricket.

Irani is captain of Essex for this match, just as Pritchard was then. Nasser Hussain sat on the balcony at Old Trafford, Pritchard watched at Canterbury and Irani batted on and on. He exercised a grim self-denial which was fascinating to witness.

When Irani was on 106, a curious incident had everyone scrabbling for the Laws of Cricket. Mark Ealham was bowling with keeper Steve Marsh standing back. As the bowler approached, Marsh scuttled up to the wicket, unknown to the batsman. The ball was speared down the legside, Marsh collected it, and clipped off the bails. Irani was surely out of his crease.

The first reaction of umpire "Pasty" Harris, at square leg, was to consult his colleague Trevor Jesty, and he then gave not out. This was presumably on the grounds of unfair play, because of Marsh's commando raid, but Jesty did not indicate a dead ball, required on such occasions. A debate ensued after which Irani continued serenely.

Later, Harris and Jesty confirmed unfair play, and that the "dead ball" signal had got lost in the excitement. At scheduled tea-time, another constitutional crisis arose. With Essex nine down, tea was delayed. But tea is at 4.10pm, or when 32 overs remain in the day, whichever is the later. And play can continue for 30 minutes, or eight overs, whichever takes longer.

Finally, after further consultation of the rules, Irani's last-wicket partner, Ricky Anderson, solved the problem. He made a gritty, heart- warming career-best 44 and was then comprehensively bowled by Ealham. Tea, at last, was taken, and Essex followed on. Irani's determination had lasted 286 balls, peppered with just 15 boundaries, but above all with cussedness.

n Australia will tour Sri Lanka as planned this month, despite recent terrorist attacks in the country. The squad is scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka on Monday week for a triangular one-day series and three Tests. Australians travelling to Sri Lanka have been warned to stay away from the war zone in the north of the island.