It was just as well that Nathan Astle marked his Championship debut for Lancashire with a valuable half century yesterday. The New Zealand Test all-rounder had been drafted in as a temporary replacement for Brad Hodge, but it has emerged that the Australian will not be returning to Old Trafford.
Hodge has a bulging disc in his neck which will put him out of action for six weeks, so it is likely that Astle will take over the overseas slot, provided he can be registered as a permanent replacement. Astle was one of four Lancashire batsmen who grafted throughout the day to get past 50, but was unable to turn all the hard work into three figures.
But at least their efforts contributed to wiping out a first innings deficit of 222 and turning it into a not insubstantial 215-run target. Mal Loye got closest to a hundred, an inside edge presenting wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien with a routine catch when the batsman was two away from the mark. But he and third-wicket partner Stuart Law had by then taken their team to within touching distance of their opponents in a stand of 190, which left Kent wicketless for the morning session.
Law fell cutting the admirable Tyron Henderson when he was 15 away from a century. Astle then took up the cudgel, sharing in a stand of 78 with Andrew Flintoff, whose left ankle showed no ill-effects for his 68 minutes out in the middle. He was like a smouldering volcano at the crease frequently threatening to explode into big-hitting action, but never quite allowing himself to do so.
His second stint was still a huge improvement on the first, even if his end was a trifle tame, mis-hitting Darren Stevens to mid-on. But Glen Chapple then joined Astle in a useful stand of 93. They were helped greatly by some profligate use of the second new ball, Amjad Khan bowling far too short to worry the batsmen.
Then a late flurry from Dominic Cork and Sajid Mahmood ensured a solid total for Kent to chase. By the close they had reduced the target by three runs and had survived a pacy couple of overs from Flintoff, who was then taken by helicopter in order to captain an Invitation XI against a Prince Andrew XI at Windsor as part of his benefit programme.