Flower blooms for Essex but Kolpaks are still a concern

Kent win the toss then lose the plot as Zimbabwean veteran steers Eagles to modest victory target. By Stephen Brenkley at Lord's
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The Independent Online

Perhaps the issue of nationhood was not the main topic of conversation in the Essex dressing room last night. Perhaps it should have been. Perhaps it is the most pressing topic in the game.

It is at least debatable whether the hero of the hour, who saw Essex home and inflicted on Kent their second limited overs final defeat in three weeks, should have been playing.

Grant Flower is an admirable cricketer, but he is also 37 years old, has played 67 Tests and 219 limited overs internationals for Zimbabwe and is here under the so-called Kolpak regulation. At one point not long ago, Essex seriously considered releasing him before changing their minds.

Not that Kent could complain, for they themselves are awash with players who would not know on which side of the River Medway they were born on the grounds that they were thousands of miles away at the time. Flower, brother of England's batting coach Andy (and wouldn't he have preferred a young Englishman to win the day?) employed his vast experience to ensure his county's first victory in a Lord's final since 1997. He scored an unbeaten 70 from 97 balls after coming in when the innings was decidedly rocking.

It was Kent's seventh defeat in a one-day Lord's final since they last won 30 years ago. Having relinquished their Twenty20 title in a last-ball thriller last month their disappointment will have been compounded.

The five-wicket margin was about right on the balance of play and Flower, patient and knowing, defied all that Kent's cunning captain, Robert Key, could think of. He was accompanied at the end by Ryan ten Doeschate, born in South Africa and now playing his international cricket for Holland.

Kent probably knew they had insufficient runs, though smaller totals have been successful in the FPT Final (or whatever it was) five times before. It did not, however, have the feel of being a day where 214 all out was adjacent to the winning post. Kent's batting defied common sense or logic. Either they were determined to assert their authority at any cost, the occasion got to them, or they had a private bet among themselves about who could play the most inappropriate attacking shot.

That they made (just) enough to be genuinely competitive was thanks to two of their three South African players, Martin van Jaarsveld and Ryan McLaren. By the former's standards in the competition this summer, in which has made four hundreds, his 58 was a relative failure.

But in the circumstances, it was extremely precious. McLaren's 63 – he was dismissed off the final ball of the innings – was invaluable. He came in at 100 for six with 21.1 overs remaining. Had he chosen to bat like most of his predecessors it would have ended in a dreadful mess pretty quickly. It was all well and good for Kent to impose themselves on proceedings but they took no account of the conditions. "Hey ho," they seemed to be saying, "isn't this fun."

It was unfortunate that the procession of dismissals to cavalier shots followed the dubious fall of Key. He and partner Joe Denly had looked in pretty good order at the top of the innings, although the ball was behaving rather more capriciously than Key might either have hoped or expected when he chose to bat. He was given out, adjudged caught behind by James Foster, standing up to the medium pace of David Masters. It was a testing delivery, which jagged away down the Lord's slope, but it did not look as though it had taken the edge of Key's bat.

Cue an array of ill-designed shots. Had they been suits, you would have sacked your tailor. Denly was bowled on the drive, beaten for pace. Justin Kemp, having done the groundwork, also drove much too expansively and was bowled, Darren Stevens essayed a flat-footed swish to his sixth ball and had his stumps removed.

If these batsmen were instrumental in their own downfall the bowling of both the Essex openers was a model of adhering to known strengths. Graham Napier was properly fast from the Pavilion End. David Masters was some 10mph slower but his accuracy and length – batsmen could not get forward but they could never feel safe going back – were impeccable. Masters was aided by Foster's wicketkeeping. Indeed, the whole side was lifted by Foster's expert craftsmanship. Any side would be – and that includes England.

There was to be partial recovery for Kent but no end to the late summer daftness. Azhar Mahmood swatted one, playing inside out, down to long off. Van Jaarsveld himself made a porridge of a pull.

There could be only damage limitation thereafter and the value of all-rounders in one-day cricket was demonstrated for the umpteenth time since Peter Marner scored 121 and took 3 for 49 for Lancashire in the first one of all, in the Gillette Cup, in May 1963. Yasir Arafat was as restrained as he needed to be and it was instructive that although McLaren struck only four fours in his 63, it still took only 71 balls.

Despite their other aberrations, Kent's running between the wickets was alert throughout. Essex lost wickets at regular intervals after starting with some confidence, given them partly by some inexpert Kent bowling. Their England players, Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara, were not allowed to settle. But Key changed his bowlers, retained attacking fields and made his opponents feel as though they were under pressure.

The key partnership was between Flower and Foster, who put on 101 for the fifth wicket. When Foster gave Robbie Joseph his third wicket, edging a lifter, it offered Kent a glimmer. But Flower was blooming by now.

Lord's scoreboard

Kent won the toss


J L Denly b Napier (19 balls, 2 fours) 11

*R W T Key c Foster b Masters (13 balls, 1 four) 7

M van Jaarsveld

c Cook b Wright (75 balls, 4 fours) 58

J M Kemp b Masters (31 balls, 2 fours) 16

D I Stevens c Foster b Wright (6 balls) 0

G O Jones lbw b Kaneria (39 balls, 3 fours) 19

Azhar Mahmood c Flower b Kaneria (8 balls) 2

R McLaren b Bopara (71 balls, 4 fours) 63

Yasir Arafat b Bopara (34 balls, 2 fours) 27

J C Tredwell run out (0 balls) 0

R H Joseph not out (5 balls) 2

Extras (lb7, nb 2) 9

Total (all out; 50 overs) 214

Fall: 1-15 (Key), 2-19 (Denly), 3-58 (Kemp), 4-59 (Stevens), 5-94 (Jones), 6-100 (Mahmood), 7-138 (van Jaarsveld), 8-204 (Arafat), 9-209 (Tredwell), 10-214 (McLaren).

Bowling: Masters 10-2-34-2, Napier 8-1-23-1, Wright 8-0-36-2, Bopara 8-0-46-2, Kaneria 10-0-42-2, ten Doeschate 6-0-26-0.


*M L Pettini lbw b Azhar Mahmood

(18 balls, 1 four) 10

J E R Gallian b Mahmood (45 balls, 3 fours) 28

A N Cook

c Stevens b Joseph (52 balls, 4 fours) 33

R S Bopara lbw b Joseph (20 balls) 7

G W Flower not out (97 balls, 6 fours) 70

J S Foster c Jones b Joseph (35 balls, 1 four) 18

RN ten Doeschate not out (29 balls, 2 fours) 30

Extras (lb 7, w 11, nb 4) 22

Total (5 wkts; 48.5 overs) 218

Fall: 1-32 (Pettini), 2-60 (Gallian), 3-88 (Bopara), 4-93 (Cook), 5-161 (Foster).

Did not bat: G R Napier, C J C Wright, D D Masters, Danish Kaneria.

Bowling: Mahmood 9.5-0-53-2, Arafat 9-1-40-0, Joseph 10-1-40-3, McLaren 10-0-34-0, Stevens 8-0-35-0, Tredwell 2-0-9-0.

Umpires: N J Long and G Sharp.

Essex win by 5 wickets.

Man of the Match: G W Flower (Essex).