Habib and Smith shine in sun

Leicestershire 378-7 v Kent
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The Independent Online

The combination of old-fashioned July weather and Leicestershire's cup success attracted enough people to constitute almost a crowd here yesterday, which is a rarity for four-day cricket in these parts.

If only sun-kissed days like these could be bottled and uncorked as required then perhaps the county championship would win back some lost friends.

Leicestershire currently have plenty of friends. Top of the Norwich Union League, they are not without a chance of spoiling Yorkshire's dream in the championship and have been drawn at home to Lancashire in the semi-finals of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy two weeks tomorrow, which is why Grace Road was so popular yesterday, when more than 1,000 tickets were sold.

Those who decided to make a day of it saw Leicestershire's two most attractive batsmen make a century apiece, although the value of two such fine innings was not fully appreciated by the remainder of the batting.

In conditions that make bowlers long to be back in April, one felt that after Ben Smith had posted his fourth Championship hundred in five matches and Aftab Habib had made his first in more than a year, perhaps Kent should be out of contention already.

That they are not attributes some credit to the perseverance of their perspiring bowlers but owes more to the self-inflicted failure of four batsmen even to make double figures. The most disappointing was Shahid Afridi, The Pakistan all-rounder whose explosive showings in one-day cricket raised expectations about his home Championship debut that were dashed, in the event, rather feebly.

He was soon caught, driving loosely. Earlier, Iain Sutcliffe had been leg before while not venturing a proper stroke and Darren Maddy caught at slip, fishing. Vince Wells, seeming to think better of a pull from outside off stump, gave a red-faced return catch.

Their failures take nothing from the successes of Smith and Aftab, whose elegant strokeplay was a pleasure to observe. Smith seems never to have been considered with much conviction as Test material but at his best profits from a quick eye and nimble footwork. The only disappointment came at the end, with a gentle long hop driven straight into the hands of bowler Matthew Walker.

Habib did earn a chance two years ago and, on failing immediately, was discarded with typical haste. He has not had a good 12 months but the authority with which he accumulated 21 fours and a six yesterday suggested he deserves to be looked at again.

James Tredwell, an 18-year-old off-spinner re-routed from England Under-19 duties at Hove after Min Patel cried off injured, did not arrive until 3.45, but his journey was made worthwhile when the third ball of his third over saw Habib bowled attempting to clear The Meet.

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