Cricket: Kent prosper with three centurions

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The Independent Online
Kent 381-5 v Derbyshire

Kent indulged themselves on a good pitch here, as they no doubt expected to do once they had overcome a few early problems. Carl Hooper, Matthew Fleming and the unbeaten Nigel Llong all made centuries off an attack that, for all its perseverance, had its lack of variety somewhat exposed.

Ed Smith, a 19-year-old Cambridge undergraduate, made an equally important if less glamourous contribution on his debut when the going was at its toughest and Derbyshire were left rueing the odd missed opportunity on a day where bowlers increasingly found no margin for error.

All this happened on a relayed pitch which provided healthy pace and bounce - not normal characteristics on this ground - and Kent may well have feared the worst when Devon Malcolm, in his first Championship match for a month, took wickets in his first and fourth overs.

The first may have owed something to David Fulton's misjudgement of the line; but the second was a beauty which opened Trevor Ward up before moving late to have him caught behind. Kent were 14 for 2 and almost immediately Hooper, when four, got away with a mis-timed hook against Malcolm which fell to earth safely. This probably reminded him that patience and self- discipline were vital against tight bowling and Smith stayed with him until the stroke of lunch.

When Smith eventually nicked Colin Wells to slip he had done much to blunt the new ball and, with Hooper now batting with ominous fluency, Llong was able to battle his way through an edgy start. Malcolm dropped him off Matthew Vandrau at 26, condemning his colleagues to a difficult afternoon session during which Hooper started to hit powerfully through the line on his way to three figures.

It took an exceptional ball from Harris, which flew from not much short of a length, to remove Hooper, whereupon Fleming made batting look uncommonly simple in scoring a hundred from only 88 balls, though he should have been caught behind at 86. He could not hide his dismay when he swotted a loosener from Dean Jones to backward point when he should have been thinking of today.

Llong made no such error and when he reached 100 from 187 balls, with 14 fours and a six, it was just reward for an innings of great character.