Cricket: Pitch report could cost Kent their title chance

Surrey 124 Kent 217-9
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The Independent Online
This was a poor pitch for a match which may decide the County Championship. Nineteen wickets fell on the first day on what David Gilbert, the Surrey coach, charitably described as a "sporting green top." It was more than that. A nasty bounce claimed at least four wickets and was uppermost in the batsmen's minds.

It was also of concern to the umpires Trevor Jesty and Alan Whitehead, who reported the strip - last played on in 1993 - for being "underprepared".

The England and Wales Cricket Board pitches consultant, Harry Brind, will now inspect the wicket this morning. If he finds Kent guilty, they could be docked as many as 25 points - which would confirm Glamorgan as champions without the Welsh county needing to beat Somerset at Taunton.

John Wright, the Kent coach, said that the groundstaff had chosen "the flattest pitch out there" for the match.

An important side issue to the day's developments was Gilbert's statement on Wednesday that Glamorgan could expect no favours from Surrey. He claims he was badly misquoted and had meant the exact opposite, namely, that Surrey had every intention of making it as hard as possible for the home side. "I was asked straight out," he said. "Who I would prefer to win the Championship and I said `Kent'. It was just an honest answer. But to think that means that Surrey wouldn't try against them is absolute rubbish."

Kent, who won the toss -and even Glamorgan cannot blame anyone for that - bowled when conditions were at their hardest and bowled better than Surrey did later on.

In the morning session, when Surrey were bowled out in 27 overs in 130 minutes, the ball swung sharply in a heavy haze and moved all over the place off the seam, particularly at the Nackington Road end.

On this sort of pitch only batsmen of real class or those with determination will make runs. Kent's Mark Butcher, who batted for 93 minutes, displayed bags of the second, while Chris Lewis's flair enabled him to produce an exciting cameo, but nothing more, as so often happens with him. Later, Ed Smith and Alan Wells showed what class could do and Mark Ealham revealed a combination of the two.

Both counties are fielding weakened sides. Kent were without the injured Matin McCague and Dean Headley, while Paul Strang has gone home to play for Zimbabwe. Surrey are without Graham Thorpe, Adam Hollioake and Martin Bicknell.

Kent's decision to field first was a formality and before 11 overs had been bowled half the Surrey were out for 29. Alec Stewart had a nasty lifter he could get on top off and was brilliantly caught at short leg. Otherwise there were some poor strokes by batsmen finding the movement too much for them and whose techniques were shown to be sketchy.

Kent's Julian Thompson, who swung the ball sharply away from the right handers, bowled extremely well for his 4 for 33, although he was lucky when Alistair Brown skied a hook to fine leg.

The home side made hardly the best of starts to their innings when David Fulton drove at the first ball of their innings and was caught at second slip. The sharp bounce caused the second wicket to fall, Trevor Ward being caught in two minds by one which lifted unpleasantly. A mixture of poor batting, good bowling and the unexpected bounce then had Kent wickets falling just as Surrey's had earlier in the day.

Smith received a yorker when he was on the back foot expecting a bouncer, while Graham Cowdrey had a brute of a ball which lifted from near a length. Wells' fine innings ended when he fell to Lewis outside the off stump.

After tea, Ealham was admirable, making the only fifty of the day. Ben Phillips made an excellent partner and they put on 51 for the eighth wicket.

Top of the table

P W L D Bat Bwl Tot

Glamorgan (10) 16 7 2 7 46 57 236

Kent (4) 16 7 4 5 44 60 236

Yorkshire (6) 16 6 2 8 41 53 214

Warwicks (8) 16 7 2 7 30 51 214

Middlesex (9) 16 7 4 5 30 56 213

l includes yesterday's 17th round bonus points

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