AT THREE o'clock yesterday afternoon Hampshire's Alex Morris completed an over he had begun on Thursday evening. And, inevitably, a sky that had been blue all day, while the ground staff mopped and spiked the turf, began to thicken.
If the clouds allowed, 32 overs plus an hour remained of a rain-ruined fixture which, until that point, had seen just one full day's play. There was not even time for the most contrived of run chases, and both teams settled for seeking bonus points instead. According to umpire Mervyn Kitchen, if it had been left to the players they would have trooped off again for tea at the appointed time, but the umpires told them to offer the faithful dotted around the ground as much entertainment as possible.
Kent in particular felt in need of a little luck on the field. A thief had earlier worked his way through their dressing-room and then telephoned, purporting to represent the Southampton police, asking for the pin numbers to match their switch cards. The information was duly provided.
Morris is a strapping fast bowler sporting a ponytail, who arrived on the south coast from Yorkshire in time for last season, after which he was sitting at the top of the Hampshire averages, ahead of Nixon McLean. The West Indian took over briefly from Morris yesterday but under a surly sky the man who sometimes reckoned to be the fastest in the world could have brought the afternoon to a sudden halt, and so came off after six very brisk overs.
In fact the pitch seemed surprisingly docile after its long sweat beneath the covers and as the cloud cover thinned, it was Kent who prospered, chasing the distant 200 necessary for the first batting point. There was some playing and missing, some lucky snicks, but David Fulton and Alan Wells added a brisk 74 before Fulton carved medium-pacer Simon Renshaw to substitute fielder Zac Morris, Alex's younger brother, fielding at point.
In his next over Renshaw earned Hampshire a second bowling point when he pinned Wells back on his stumps, at which point Kent's hopes rested in the powerful hands of the big-hitting Andrew Symonds. However, as the last hour of play approached, the Australian padded up to a straight ball from John Stephenson and it was Hampshire who were in the hunt. Stephenson then wobbled another ball into Steve Marsh's pads to gain a third bonus point, but as soon as Matthew Fleming was allowed to declare he did so, and that was that.