Cricket: Rashid blossoms

Sussex 336 and 317-8dec Kent 336 and 42-0 Match drawn
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The Independent Online
LAST SUMMER Sussex's general manager, Dave Gilbert, confirmed that the signing of a spin bowler was to be among the next pieces to be fitted into the Hove jigsaw. Meanwhile, Umer Rashid was serving time in the Middlesex second XI, a left-arm spinner playing for the same club as Phil Tufnell. Opportunities were scarce - in three years his first- class games amounted to one Championship match and a fixture against Oxford University in which he neither batted nor bowled. But he had promise, and people said he could bat a bit - he once made 82 for British Universities against Hampshire. Sussex kept their eyes on him, and during the winter he moved south.

Even Sussex, however, could not have realised that they were signing a genuine all-rounder. After all, he arrived with a highest first-class score of nine. This year, in nine Championship knocks, he has only once failed to improve on that. In this game he contributed 38 and 73 to the Sussex cause, and in the Kent first innings he wheeled out 23 miserly overs, while nipping out three of the top-order wickets.

Ironically, Rashid's blossoming expertise with the bat - he has moved up the Sussex order run by run and has now settled in seventh place - helped to kill what had been a perfectly-poised contest. Both first innings had closed at 336, and a late Friday flurry of wickets had left Sussex suddenly exposed at 185 for 6 overnight. The pessimistic of the Kent faithful, rewarded so far with an indifferent season, doubted their team's ability to chase much more than 200, and so the game was afoot.

It was down to Rashid and the promising quick bowler James Kirtley, both of whom had barely started their second knocks, to nurse the hosts to a decent target yesterday morning. If only England could rely on such doughty performances from the lower order. Admittedly, Kent were handicapped by a pitch that has flattened by the day and by the back twinges suffered by Mark Ealham, potentially their most effective bowler in such grudging conditions, but the spoilsport batting of Rashid and Kirtley could only be admired. Even the occasional helmet-rattling bouncer from an increasingly frustrated Dean Headley was coolly negotiated as they added 91 runs and put the game beyond Kent.

Rashid's first hit for six, a top-edged hook off Andrew Symonds, might have been somewhat fortuitous, but no luck was involved in his second when he hit Julian Thompson cleanly over the pavilion. He is not a flashy player - his batting technique is as strictly functional as his workmanlike bowling - but Rashid is already beginning to repay Sussex's hunch on his unexploited talent.

As for the game, the rain that arrived at 3.30pm ended the formalities and what had been an intriguing match was washed away.