Cricket: Kent frustrated by form

Leicestershire 103 Kent 120-7
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RAIN delayed the start until 6pm but only 31 balls were faced before bad light was offered for the second time and accepted after Simon Willis ducked into a bouncer. The umpires remained on the field but with four lights showing it appeared that the teams could resume the sitting position. For the home side it was a pleasant time to plan their trip to Lord's for the Benson & Hedges final in July, but for Kent it was added frustration to their inconsistent start to the season.

Perennial runners-up last year - they came second in three of the four competitions - this year was meant to be different. Hotly tipped at the start of the season to win something, anything, they have recently suffered a drop in form. A crushing quarter-final defeat to Leicestershire last month was followed by two consecutive Championship losses to Sussex and Surrey. Even considering that the Championship has some way to go such results do not bode well, although the players themselves are still upbeat about their chances, particularly Min Patel, an unwilling spectator all last season because of injury.

"It was difficult watching the lads last season, but we lost two games on the trot last year and still came second," he explained. "Four points was the difference and no side goes a whole season without the odd bad spell.

"In truth, it has been our catching that has let us down rather than individuals' form with the bat or ball. We had Sussex 87 for 6 and I dropped a fairly easy catch at first slip, that partnership then added another 100 and it probably cost us the match." Such honesty is the hallmark of Kent under the guidance of John Wright and it is no surprise to find that Kent players are no shrinking violets, whatever the situation.

Mark Ealham did not enjoy the best Test match at Edgbaston, but in his quiet, unassuming way he is a very tough competitor. Ironically, his place for the Lord's Test may have been saved by the unfortunate injury to Ian Salisbury during the semi-final here earlier this week.

With Darren Gough also out the path is clear for a return for the 12th man at Edgbaston, Dean Headley. "It was disappointing not to play at Edgbaston, but whether you play or not you are part of a team that is trying to win," Headley explained. "It was sad that rain ruined the match because we had a great chance of going one up, but conditions are part of the game."

So are injuries and while sad that Gough is indisposed, Headley is prepared to step up. Before the Edgbaston match he recorded his season's best figures of 6 for 71 against Championship high-flyers Durham, but the recent inclement weather has hindered his preparation.

A win would certainly boost Kent and kick-start their season, but with nearly two-thirds of the season remaining they are near the top of the Sunday League, poised to mount a challenge for the Championship and awaiting the start of the NatWest trophy. They also have a depth of talent and can absorb any injuries.

Robert Key, 19, scored his maiden Championship century against Durham and with the return of Ed Smith after the Cambridge term there will be true competition at the top of the order. Either makes an ideal partner for the present leading run-scorer, David Fulton. With a desire to work at Conservative Party headquarters, Fulton is clearly prepared for a battle but to do so he, like the others, will need the rain to stop.