STEADINESS under fire yesterday on a palpably sub-standard pitch saw Kent maintain their challenge for the Sunday League title with a seventh victory in 11 outings. It was muck and bullets here, nine balls remaining when Mark Ealham loosed the winning shot to conclude a fine contest in which a stand of 96 between Nigel Llong and Neil Taylor proved decisive.
While Somerset had to rely on the late blast in an effort to stave off their sixth successive defeat, Kent took the safer route by spreading the load, Ealham and Steve Marsh backing up the fifth-wicket pair by completing a half-century partnership from the final boundary.
Somerset, meanwhile, were going nowhere slowly at the start and never looked like improving on their one win which had them rooted at the foot of the table. 'We've never got enough runs when we've batted first,' Bob Cottam, their cricket director, said. With 50 on the board and half their overs gone, Cottam was not about to pick and choose his words.
The call was such that one wag remarked: 'We'd be better off dashing home to watch the grass grow.' The problem, though, was the wicket, which was a real pig. 'If it had been a Championship match we would have been docked 25 points,' Cottam said. Puffs of dust revealed that the top was going and the bounce was unpredictable throughout.
It was not the dangerous flyer, however, of Grace Road a fortnight ago, when Leicestershire's match with Surrey was abandoned after 11 overs. All the same, one bullet from Andre van Troost was enough to persuade Carl Hooper to don a helmet for the first time this season when it was Kent's turn in the trenches.
The fact that they were looking at a target of 194 was down to Graham Rose and Andrew Payne, who dragged the innings out of a large crater. Chris Tavare, for example, faced 57 deliveries in making 15 and at that rate Somerset were not going to get within sight of three figures.
Somerset were already missing Nick Folland and Richard Harden, victims of a flu virus, and when Andy Hayhurst was caught and bowled by Matthew Fleming off one that stopped, Rose threw down his bat in disgust. On picking it up, however, he used it with great effect as the fight back from 65 for 5 began.
While Rose struck the first boundary in 26 overs, this became 71 for 6 in the 36th when Fleming removed Mushtaq Ahmed for a duck. Help was on its way, though, Payne hitting Llong for a straight six to bring up the 100 and dishing out similar treatment to Fleming.
Fleming also took stick from Rose, who smashed him for 4, 6, 4 off successive balls in a 44th over costing 17 runs. Fleming had figures of 2 for 14 from his first four overs but his next four went for 43 as the seventh- wicket pair doubled the score in the last 10 overs.
Rose, who made 78, marked Ealham's return with four boundaries and had 12 to his credit from 73 balls come the finish, Payne facing 48 in a half-century that included three sixes. Rose was also active later on but a Sunday best of 4 for 26, plus a superb run-out, was not enough to keep Kent from snatching the points.