Cruel ending to Crawley's magnificent spectacle

Kent 577-7 and 163-4 Hampshire 671 Match drawn
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The Independent Online

There is a perception that every time players in white flannels take to the field they are there to entertain. But that is not necessarily so. One-day cricket – that's entertainment, dollops of rough stuff on a plate for the fan.

But championship cricket, that's education. It is more for the benefit of the players. Larger helpings of tough stuff and rarely on a plate. It is there to prepare the best of them for test cricket, and to test the rest to see if they might make it. And not just their technique, but their character too. Not just their physical fitness, but their mental stamina as well.

The need is for a competitive environment and, in its own way, the match that unfolded here provided just that. That the game ended in a draw was immaterial in the grander scheme of things.

Here, on a pitch stuffed with runs, the good batsman thrived, the poor survived, the good bowlers got their wickets, the shortcomings of the mediocre bowlers were exposed. Thus it was that Hampshire's John Crawley was able to pass 250 runs for the fifth time in his career. And not all of them were easy, he just made a lot of them look as if they were. Because he's good.

As bravely as the makeshift Kent attack, shorn of the services of Martin Saggers, Ben Trott and Mark Ealham, strove for control they were never quite able to achieve that. Crawley's dismissal indeed had nothing directly to do with any of them.

The former Lancashire batsman was backing up when Shaun Udal drove Min Patel straight back down the track. On his follow through the left-arm spinner stuck his hand down instinctively and deflected the ball onto the middle stump at the non-striker's end with Crawley stranded out of his ground. It was an ignominious finish to a splendid innings with Crawley a mere 14 runs away from matching his highest first-class innings – 286 for England A against Eastern Province on the 1993-94 tour.

It might have ended nine and a half hours of quality batting, but not interest in the proceedings. The tattered remnants of the Hampshire side still managed to get the statisticians riffling through the record books as they approached the county's highest total, 672, which had stood since 1899.

In the event, after keeping Kent toiling in the field for more than 12 hours, they fell one run short of the mark and five below the highest score by all comers against Kent. But at least they had an excuse.

Already hampered by a knee injury to the wicketkeeper Adrian Aymes, their batting line-up then lost Udal after he was struck on his right thumb and Alex Morris then dropped out with a stiff back.

That created a mini-crisis in the visiting dressing room, solved when Hampshire's head coach Jimmy Cook and his teenage son, Stephen, joined the official 12th man Dimitri Mascarenhas out in the middle when Kent emerged to wipe out the first-innings deficit of 94 runs and bat on for the draw.