Cricket: Kent cave in to Kirtley

Sussex 189 and 303-7dec Kent 211 and 206 Sussex win by 75 runs
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The Independent Online
AN inspired late-afternoon demonstration of fast, straight bowling by 23-year-old James Kirtley saw Sussex maintain their contact with the top of the Championship table. Taking the ball after tea with Sussex already scenting victory, Kirtley's decisive spell brought him four wickets for eight in 5.3 overs. Given that he also collected 42 important down-the- order runs in the match, for one dismissal, he will have enjoyed his festival game at the attractive Nevill Ground.

But it was a game that sorely needed to come to light with a positive result. The weather had been dull and sultry for three days, though only an hour's play was lost, and the cricket pursued a dogged course until yesterday morning when an agreed declaration equation was jockeyed into position and the chase began. The weather, suitably, brightened.

The wicket remained low and slow, inhibiting positive stroke play, and the lush outfield proved reluctant to reward any but the hardest-hit shot. In the meantime, bowlers strained to find devils in the track. The outcome was four days of honest, hard-fought cricket where runs and wickets had to be earned.

With Sussex finding themselves, somewhat lightheadedly, in second place in the table and Kent striving to improve on fifth, this was not just a festival derby but a match which could influence the early-season Championship more than most. Sussex must now be beginning to believe in themselves.

The visitors resumed their target-setting innings yesterday morning in positive mood. After the loss of two early wickets, Keith Newell and Kirtley clumped their way breezily to the declaration point. Kent were asked to score 282 in a minimum of 84 overs. To set a rate of less than 3.5 an hour would be foolhardy on most grounds, but on this pitch it was a finely judged equation.

One expected a decisive contribution from one or other of the overseas stars yesterday. Michael Bevan's eccentric left-arm spin, which in the first innings mixed long hops and one extraordinary beamer with some beautifully unplayable fizzers, could not find an awkward grip in the wearing wicket. As for Carl Hooper's batting genius, top-scoring in the Kent innings was simply not enough. Even though he went some way towards atoning for his lazy first-innings effort, he snicked the bustling Alex Edwards to slip after a blistering cameo following the over when Kent's other likely match winner, Alan Wells, had been run out by Toby Peirce's direct hit.

This double blow, at 2.30 in the afternoon was the turning point. Matthew Walker blasted briefly but since the asking rate was being achieved the top-edged hook which brought his downfall looked careless. Later Matthew Fleming, as one would expect of this wholehearted cricketer, was defiant to the end, but the Kent tail is fragile and was no match for young Kirtley as he pounded in and saw Sussex home.

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