Lancashire frustrated

Kent 301-8 v Lancashire
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Lancashire are beginning to look like a bunch of tail-end Charlies. At The Oval last week they let Surrey off the hook and watched helplessly as the ninth wicket added a valuable half century, and they were reduced to a similarly impotent role yesterday.

This time it was the Kent ninth wicket pairing of Paul Nixon and Martin Saggers who were the chief wrigglers. They steered Kent to a third batting bonus point, something that had not seemed merely improbable, but impossible when they were floundering at 166 for 6. In the process of putting together their unbroken 96-run stand Nixon scored his first Championship fifty of the season and Saggers reached a career best 38 not out as Lancashire's First Division title challenge suffered a serious setback.

Kent owed much to David Fulton, who contributed yet another substantial score at the top of the innings. Their early plight had certainly borne out Lancashire captain John Crawley's decision to invite them to bat on what appeared to be a greenish pitch. Even without the injured pace men Peter Martin and Glen Chapple, who were both sent back to Old Trafford for treatment to leg and side niggles respectively, the stand-ins John Wood and Michael Smethurst, backed up by Andrew Flintoff and Joe Scuderi, did enough to suggest that their captain had read conditions well.

Kent really had to work for their runs. Fulton played as he has been doing all season, sensibly, patiently; he was always prepared to wait for the ball to punish, and risks were not in his programme which is why he has already compiled five hundreds this summer. Such is his aptitude for converting half-centuries into three figure scores that it was quite a jolt when he become the second of Muttiah Muralitharan's three wickets, but not before he was the first batsman to a 1,000 first-class runs this season.

When Mark Ealham, Mathew Fleming and Minal Patel followed him into the pavilion there was an air of morbid expectation around the ground among home supporters. But Nixon and Saggers gradually prised loose Lancashire's grip on affairs and then took control.