Kent deny the best of Warne

Hampshire 328 and 461-9 dec v Kent 305 and 447-9: Match drawn
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The Independent Online

Throughout the day, the great man sported a woolly hat pulled down over his ears. When his hands were not wanted he had them firmly in his pockets. Most of his colleagues followed his lead in both regards.

Throughout the day, the great man sported a woolly hat pulled down over his ears. When his hands were not wanted he had them firmly in his pockets. Most of his colleagues followed his lead in both regards.

The last time this many beanies were seen together was on Ski Sunday, and although this was wholly sensible given the biting cold, it is probable that if Shane Warne had decreed the conditions were appropriate for shorts and flipflops, his team would have followed suit.

Such is the nature of his charismatic leadership, which has now propelled Hampshire improbably up the Championship table and came within a nerve-shredding whisker last night of putting them at the top. With Warne in your side anything seems possible but Hampshire were denied in a rousing finale by Kent's late order.

The ninth-wicket pair of Simon Cook and Min Patel batted for 90 minutes and there were 30 overs left when they came together. Although they were finally separated by a whizzing Warne leg break, the last wicket held out without alarm for the remaining 22 balls. It was an epic rearguard action on a wonderful pitch which yielded 1,541 runs in the match's four days.

At times Kent might have entertained hopes of attaining the 485 they required to win. In the end, they would have been grateful to hang on at 447 for 9, the biggest fourth-innings total in their history.

Already this season there has been some captivating county cricket and this game continued in that vein. A single point - Hampshire are in joint third place - separates four teams and the competition has been tigerish.

As captain, Warne has given Hampshire an extra edge. The players respect him for his great deeds in the game but, of equal importance, he respects them and frequently says so. Because he would do anything for them, the favour is reciprocated tenfold.

He orchestrated operations as though he knew precisely what was going on and why, and on this surface they needed orchestrating. If it had not been for the peccadilloes that eventually precluded him from taking the job, he would have made some captain of Australia.

The first part of the morning was taken up in sparring. Kent were working out if they had a game to save or win, Hampshire were calculating how to win it. The nightwatchman Martin Saggers defended admirably but eventually edged the equally admirable Chris Tremlett behind, unsure whether to go forward or back.

Matthew Walker nicked Sean Ervine behind and when Martin van Jaarsveld was beautifully held low at first slip by Warne, who scooped the catch with a nonchalance defying its difficulty, Kent's chances of escaping receded, and never mind the blissful pitch.

Shortly after, that estimation was confirmed when Warne bowled Geraint Jones through his legs as he squared up to a leg break. In football, this would have been an example of a practice known as nutmegging. Warne has come up against only three candidates for the England batting order so far this summer - Andrew Strauss, Robert Key and Jones - and he has dismissed them all. It may or may not mean anything, and England had better pray that it does not.

Nonetheless, Kent decided they had nothing to lose and suddenly began playing champagne shots, not all of which were streaky. Matt Dennington scored seven fours from 12 balls with the new ball not long out of its wrapper, most of them off the outside edge. He raced to his second half-century of the match, in 51 balls, accompanied by Darren Stevens, who did likewise.

If this had lasted, a much-needed victory would have galloped into view. But Dennington was bowled by a beauty from Tremlett, who had taken a wicket in each of his four spells. In the next over, Stevens shouldered arms to Ervine and was lbw, perhaps a trifle harshly.

That had to be that, it seemed. Not so as Cook and Patel dug in. Warne rang the changes, operating at both ends as he brought Tremlett back for the fourth time in the day to try to secure victory.

Three weeks ago at the St Lawrence ground, Warwickshire held out on the last day when it looked as if they were certain to be defeated. They too had one wicket left. This was another taut finish, one to warm up the spectators. Warne kept his hat on, which ensured you couldn't see if the same could be said of his hair.

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