Cricket: Silverwood hits seam of gold

Yorkshire 312 & 301 Kent 374 & 147-5 Match drawn
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With one round of matches left in the enthralling 1997 Championship, a single point separates the two leading contenders. It will be down to nerve now as much as skill and when the players of Kent and Glamorgan go into battle for the last time on Thursday they will surely know, too, that a single run or wicket, a false stroke or fielding error could end all their grand ambitions.

There was the faintest suspicion at Headingley yesterday that with the greatest domestic prize looming large into view Kent were afraid. Faced with a target of 240 to beat Yorkshire, demanding but entirely attainable, they made it academic by falling to 48 for 5. They had to contend with some honest, straight seam bowling from the England A pair, Chris Silverwood and Paul Hutchison, the pitch's bounce was untrustworthy, a couple of umpiring decisions might have gone another way on another day but none of that could fully dispel the impression that Kent were determined to take a full part in their own downfall. Four of the five strokes which cost the wickets did their perpetrators no credit.

By the end they saved the contest with plenty to spare. The sixth-wicket pair of Mark Ealham and Matthew Fleming dug in, consolidated and were looking pretty unworried and unhurried when rain and bad light conspired to end the day with five overs left of the last hour. They put on 99 and Fleming made his second stolid half-century of the match in 117 balls, his jaw jutting out resolutely as he did so. He contained his natural ebullience, the stalwart Ealham shuffled into line and played straight.

Yorkshire were the more disappointed. In all but mathematical terms they needed to win to retain a realistic hope of their first Championship since 1968. When Silverwood charged in dynamically and took five wickets to add to the seven he captured in the first innings - easily the best match figures of his short, burgeoning career - even their stoic captain David Byas might have entertained the fleeting thought that the long wait would soon be over. The 16 points for victory would at least have taken Yorkshire's honourable challenge to the 17th match, in Derby. Crushing victory there, not to be discounted, and rain or a harder struggle for points elsewhere and Byas would have done what five Yorkshire captains have failed to do since Brian Close.

In the afternoon, as Ealham and Fleming were unmoved, Byas might have done more to attack. There was a Championship at stake, the crowd, sparse but rapt, must have wanted to tell him. But he stuck to his captaincy style. The gap is all but certainly too much to make up now. So it is now down to Glamorgan, who go to Taunton, and Kent, who play Surrey at Canterbury. The loss of Paul Strang, who goes to join Zimbabwe for Test duty against New Zealand, may be significant in Kent's case. He removed the last two Yorkshire wickets yesterday almost as soon as his fingers warmed up.

There was no initial sign of the trouble to come as Kent began their reply. But the bowlers found a judicious rhythm. Silverwood, who has returned admirably after a slow start to the season, was obtaining movement, Hutchison found excellent control. Ed Smith groped outside the off-stump. David Fulton played on off his pads. Then in fairly short order the senior middle order were all out LBW, once more the victims of Silverwood and, almost bizarrely, Dickie Bird. The great not-outer also refused three appeals. Two of those he upheld might have been given the benefit but batsmen who play across the line are flirting with danger.

Kent's first five wickets have mustered 250 between them in only three innings this season and have assembled fewer than 150 13 times. They may need to do the latter rather than the former on Thursday against Surrey.