If Durham, the defending champions, thought they had reached the bottom of their trough with defeat by an innings against Nottinghamshire two weeks ago, they were mistaken. Losing to a side with designs on stealing their crown is one thing, being humbled by one at the bottom of the table with no wins in six matches quite another.
Given that Durham beat Kent by six wickets at Canterbury last week, the manner of their defeat was even more difficult to explain. No team has beaten Durham inside five sessions since Sussex did so four years ago, before going on to win the title. The defeat at Trent Bridge prompted the removal of Will Smith from the captaincy. Phil Mustard, his successor, already knows that, even when your team has won two titles in a row, a collective loss of form makes the job more difficult.
With the exception of Darren Stevens for Kent on Monday, and Michael di Venuto and Ben Stokes – heroically – yesterday, the batting was ordinary. The difference lay in the bowling. Where Makhaya Ntini and Amjad Khan were outstanding for Kent, sharing 17 wickets. Durham's bowlers hit the right level only sporadically. Steve Harmison in particular was disappointing. If he has designs on regaining his England place in time to make the Ashes party, he has much work to do.
Ntini finished with 6-51 yesterday, capping a five-match stint as Kent's overseas player with 10 wickets in the match. There was no mystery to his success: he simply ran in and bowled straight, performing with enthusiasm.
"There have been some impressive figures who have played for Kent as overseas players but none can have given as much as Makhaya," the county's head coach, Paul Farbrace, said.
He leaves Kent now to fulfil an ambassadorial role at the football World Cup, although he has not given up on adding to his 101 Test caps. "I need 10 more wickets for 400 and I would like the chance to get them," he said.
As at Nottingham, Durham had the solace of another fine performance from Stokes, the 18-year-old prodigy, who defied a sprained ankle to hit 53 off 40 balls as he and Di Venuto raised hopes of an unlikely comeback in a stand of 81 for the sixth wicket. But once Ntini had knocked out Stokes's off stump, the end came quickly, the last five Durham wickets falling for 23 runs, all of them to the South African.Reuse content