Cricket: McGrath signing eases the pain

Kent 119 & 350 Worcestershire 106 & 343 Kent win by 20 runs

WORCESTERSHIRE WILL feel they should have won this contest, which turned on the last-wicket partnership of 101 which gave Kent a daunting lead, but they can console themselves at least with the knowledge that the Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath will be joining them next year.

A two-season contract was negotiated during the World Cup, and the one obstacle to the signing of McGrath was removed yesterday when the Australian Cricket Board gave its clearance for the deal to go ahead.

Australia have been worried that their leading players face enough demands from international cricket, but the ACB chairman, Denis Rogers, said yesterday that it would be wrong to stand in McGrath's way. "We felt that Glenn has made too big a contribution to Australian cricket to be bloody- minded about it. He has given fantastic service to Australia so we reluctantly agreed to release him."

McGrath will be required for the Ashes series in 2001 but Worcestershire will have his services next season and in 2002. Rogers said the ACB remains concerned about the issue and that the chief executive, Malcolm Speed, has been commissioned to put together guidelines for future requests from contracted players. "The new world we live in is that we have a responsibility for the welfare of Australian cricket," Rogers said.

Kent, meanwhile, were celebrating their first Championship victory over Worcestershire since 1978. After both sides had completed an innings on the first day, the prospect of any cricket on the fourth seemed remote, but in the event another 100 minutes were needed to complete proceedings yesterday.

The outcome would be determined by whether the doughty figure of Steve Rhodes and his allies could avoid the hazards in the New Road pitch long enough to steer Worcestershire to the 84 runs wanted for a third consecutive win. However, although Rhodes survived, his partners, one by one, did not and ultimately a target of 364 remained out of reach as Kent won by 20 runs.

As a consequence, Kent move up to joint third in the Championship table with Leicestershire and Warwickshire, which may be seen as a fairly healthy position for a county supposedly suffering from a crisis of dressing-room confidence. Captain Matthew Fleming's splendid 138 provided just enough inspiration on this occasion.

Rhodes and Stuart Lampitt, continuing the partnership which started on Sunday, looked Worcestershire's best hope but Mark Ealham struck a decisive blow when he had Lampitt leg before to a ball that kept low. The pair had put on 53. Surprisingly, Fleming did not take the new ball until four overs after it became available, by which time Worcestershire needed only 32 more with three wickets standing.

However, Richard Illingworth then chopped on to Dean Headley, and Julian Thompson, who had been held back until the 18th over, wasted little time in having Phil Newport caught at short square leg and Alamgir Sheriyar leg before to finish with impressive figures of 4 for 58.

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