Key's rich form gives Kent hopes of safety

Surrey 479 Kent 181-5

There were times when the reconstruction of the Vauxhall End of The Oval progressed more quickly than this match between the one-time county kings Surrey and the present Championship leaders, Kent.

There were times when the reconstruction of the Vauxhall End of The Oval progressed more quickly than this match between the one-time county kings Surrey and the present Championship leaders, Kent.

Batsmen from either side seemed reluctant to let fly. Instead they moved with the ponderous precision of the diggers and hoists that beavered away all day reshaping the South London ground.

The construction company has until 6.0pm on 8 August to complete the first stage of the refurbishment, while these sides have until about that time tomorrow to wrap up this match.

And the way things were going at one point yesterday, a draw looked the likeliest outcome. Not much stirred until late in the day, when Robert Key began to open up and wickets began to fall.

The Kent man passed fifty for the fourth time in his last five innings - the previous three were all turned into hundreds - and this knock should go the same way sometime today, not that it will grab the attention of the England selectors, more's the pity.

Still, their loss is Kent's gain because they will need him if they are to amass the 330 runs required to avoid the follow-on. They trooped in still 149 runs off that initial target and 298 behind overall.

Surrey bowled well. Azhar Mahmood generated pace and movement in the air and off the pitch and made things awkward for Kent, with the exception of Key. The Pakistan all-rounder claimed four of the five wickets to fall, the wicketkeeper, Jon Batty, being the catcher on each occasion. Batty claimed his fifth catch when the nightwatchman, Martin Saggers, was snapped up down the leg side.

The Kent attack had not been quite so efficient, although they did a half-decent job in containing Surrey in the morning. Had it not been for an excellent half-century, his second in successive innings, by a watchful Alistair Brown, Surrey might have struggled to build as challenging a total.

Batty, the captain, perished early on, and after passing 150 in an innings for the 20th time in his career Mark Ramprakash was bowled by Mohammad Sami. But the real damage was done by the slow left-armer Rob Ferley, who sparked a post-lunch collapse and took three wickets for 18 runs in 23 balls.

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