Cricket: Smith points Kent in right direction

Hampshire 406 Kent 182-1
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The Independent Online
As worthy as Ed Smith's maiden Championship century might be, and as notable as was the opening stand of 170 - the county's first century partnership for the first wicket in this Championship season - what Kent really needs is precious points if they are to maintain their challenge for the title, especially since they failed to pick up maximum bowling points. They have to reach an agreement with Hampshire to have a chance of salvaging something out of this soggy game.

While the weather relented a little yesterday, there were still a few clouds surrounding the outcome of this match. There was not so much as a sniff of intrigue or connivance in the air. The situation developed because of time lost to rain and was exacerbated by an amiable pitch which allowed both sides to gather runs at will. That was certainly the case with Smith and his partner, David Fulton. By the time Smith departed, caught and bowled by Simon Renshaw, no one was in any doubt about the burgeoning talent of this 20-year-old.

Smith and Fulton used to open for Sevenoaks Vine in the Kent League and certainly played well off each other. Smith, in particular, looked at ease. The Cambridge Blue, who led the national batting averages for a time this season, was in good touch, reaching his hundred off 157 balls, with the help of 16 sweetly struck fours.

Fulton, who made his first-class debut five years ago, has yet to score a Championship hundred so his caution was understandable, but the county's needs also had to be considered and he did seem to become rather bogged down towards the close.

Earlier, the Hampshire lower order had feasted. The Kent attack flogged away for much of the morning and a sizeable period of the afternoon trying for that elusive final bowling point, but they were past the 120-over mark before they picked off the last two wickets.

After the captain, John Stephenson, had spent 20 overs adding 22 to his overnight 54, Kent met further resistance in an unlikely quarter. Shaun Udal plies his trade as an off-spinner and this summer he recorded his maiden first-class hundred. On the evidence here, a second century may not be far away.

It was not as if there was any joke bowling to contend with. Dean Headley, Mark Ealham and Paul Strang are all Test-class bowlers while Ben Phillips is a promising player and Matthew Fleming is perfectly capable of niggling and nudging out better batsmen.

Udal showed scant regard for reputations. If the odd edge flew dangerously close to Kent hands, there were still enough genuine shots in front of the wicket, including a straight six off the spinner Strang, to suggest that Udal has plenty to offer with the bat.

His disappointment at falling nine runs short of three figures would have been short-lived; he had scored at virtually a run a ball and his tally also included a five (thanks to four overthrows) and 13 fours, and he helped put on 113 for the ninth wicket with Renshaw, who looks another useful looking wielder of the willow.

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