Hampshire's title hopes remain under a cloud

Kent 446 Hampshire 82-1
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The Independent Online

Hampshire will have to make up a fair amount of ground in this match if they are to maintain their title challenge, and the way in which they finish this season could yet hinge on how well they start an innings.

Not once in the Championship has the first-wicket pair - and Hampshire have now used six opening combinations - got into three figures. Indeed only twice has a pairing passed the half-century mark. And yesterday, while the personnel had changed, the pattern was unswervingly and depressingly familiar.

Michael Brown, who has been the only constant in all the chopping and changing at the top of the order, offered an inside edge off Andrew Hall's second over and Niall O'Brien took a good catch low down to his left.

Sean Ervine was able to hang around until rain arrived four overs into the afternoon session. The Zimbabwean, one of a number of overseas players at Hampshire, was just beginning to get into his stride and when a halt was called he was within touching distance of his half-century.

Before the storm there had been a whirlwind in the guise of Kent's last-wicket pair Min Patel and Amjad Khan, who thrashed 65 off a dazed Hampshire attack in 11 overs. The pair had come together in the third over of the morning when Simon Cook drove loosely at Andy Bichel and the resulting edge was snapped up smartly by wicketkeeper Nic Pothas. Bichel had bowled admirably up to that point but then came in for some serious stick and his final half a dozen overs were worth a further 45 runs to Kent.

Patel and Khan lifted Kent past 400 runs, making them the first visiting team to this ground this season to record maximum batting points - Hampshire have only managed the feat once this year, so unyielding have the pitches been here this summer.

Big innings have been rare here since Hampshire moved in five seasons ago. The host county have topped the 400-mark just twice, while Kent's was some way adrift of Sussex's 500 made in 2002, the first season here.

Both tail-enders made batting look a lot easier than their team-mates had on the opening day. Patel's 60-ball halfcentury was his second in successive innings, while Khan's 33 was his highest of the season. Khan finally fell skying a return catch to Shaun Udal, the acting Hampshire captain in the absence of Shane Warne.