Cricket: Nottinghamshire's hard graft

Kent 216 Nottinghamshire 39-1
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Nottinghamshire had to dig deep again yesterday to try to overcome their injury problems.

Having conjured up two memorable wins from highly unlikely scenarios, they had probably started to think nothing was impossible, but not everything went according to plan and Kent took most of the kudos for some controlled bowling and imaginative captaincy.

Not many sides down the years have emerged with such satisfaction after losing the toss on a sweltering day at this ground, but there was more than a tinge of green to the pitch, the ball swung just enough and Nottinghamshire, of course, were without their specialist opening pair, Tim Robinson and Paul Pollard.

Thus their game plan would have been to try to get through the morning session with the minimum of mishaps in the hope of prospering later; it made for a certain amount of gritty, almost old-fashioned, cricket with Kent often giving it a bit of width and Matthew Dowman, particularly, taking no liberties around his off-stump.

Alas for Nottinghamshire, it all went a bit awry. Ashley Metcalfe perished to a flat-footed square cut, Dowman met a good one from Matthew Fleming when he was starting to look established, and the loss of three wickets in five overs to Martin McCague and Mark Ealham sent them scurrying back to the drawing-board.

Graeme Archer, with only 44 runs behind him in seven Championship innings, grafted hard and began to time some front-foot drives. But he found it a different game when McCague came back for a quickish spell and prised him out with one that bounced and left him.

That episode apart, Kent probably had the ideal bowlers for these conditions in Ealham and Fleming, who moved the ball around more than anyone. Noel Gie must have been perilously close to lbw when he padded up first ball to Fleming's inswinger before Ealham removed him and Paul Johnson in successive overs.

Kent caught pretty well everything on offer, particularly Steve Marsh, and David Fulton held on to a one-handed effort at short leg to remove Wayne Noone. At 122 for 6, though, the teenager Usman Afzaal contributed his fourth half-century in five innings with a maturity beyond his years. A lively left-hander, he waits for the ball to come to him and appears to have the priceless gift of picking up its length early. Thus he has time to play his strokes and there were again many handsome ones, mostly played with the straightest of bats, until he became one of Marsh's six victims as he tried to steer Fleming to third man.

n Dean Headley, the Kent fast bowler, was yesterday virtually ruled out of the first Cornhill Test against Australia at Edgbaston, which starts next Thursday. Headley, who dropped out of the Championship match at Trent Bridge, has been ordered to rest a ligament problem in his back for a few days.