A rough-looking pitch, contrasting with the aristocratic Championship positions of the contestants, seems likely to produce a positive result. This could be the eliminator, deciding which team challenge Essex in the final straight.
Rob Bailey put in second-placed Kent here yesterday, balancing the benefits of a few early wickets against the potential necessity of his side, third in the table, batting last. The word was that Kent did not fancy that, anyway.
It was an overcast day and one for the connoisseur watcher, the student of attrition. Lavish strokeplay was reserved for another innings, indeed, probably another match. Grafters ruled, notably Steve Marsh, the only half-century maker, and Richard Ellison, who can, in other circumstances, thrash sixes with the best of them.
Uneven bounce, and a heavy atmosphere promoting swing bowling, turned Kent's priority into crease occupation. Ellison was the still-life artist, his unbeaten 21 occupying 36 overs with Marsh making 65 in three and a quarter hours. Relative rashness, a flick towards midwicket, cost his dismissal, leg-before to Nick Cook.
Kent have risen 12 places in the table over the past two months, an intriguing similarity with their charge to the Championship title 22 years ago in their centenary season after being bottom on 1 July.
This time, they could ill-afford two run-out dismissals by Kevin Curran when the twin demands of survival and run-scoring were already overpowering against a combination of David Capel, who took three for 48 in 23 overs, and Cook.
The run-out of Graham Cowdrey was a wanton waste after he had shared the modest best partnership of the innings with Marsh. They put on 68 in 27 overs before Marsh turned Cook backward of square leg and sent back Cowdrey, who was half-way down the pitch and beaten by a lobbed throw.
Alan Igglesden, last out, suffered a similar fate, soon after Cook had been on a hat-trick. Richard Davis was leg-before first ball after Marsh had been evicted. These were the final two balls of an over and Cook was unluckily deprived of bowling to Martin McCague, the new batsman. Instead, the unsuccessful hat-trick ball went to the obdurate Ellison.
Mark Bowen, a seam bowler from Redcar, had earlier taken his maiden first-class wicket, that of Carl Hooper, the West Indies Test batsman. Bowen will remember the low catch taken by Bailey at second slip when he is working in the dark winter hours at the Sellafield nuclear waste reprocessing plant in the North-east. This was only his second Championship game.
Bailey also held Neil Taylor's edged drive as Kent sunk towards 75. Capel took two wickets in the last five balls before lunch, including that of Matthew Fleming, one of four leg-before dismissals in the innings. Dogged defence was Northamptonshire's game as well as they faced an awkward 10 overs.
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