Patience pays off as Key turns screw

Kent 300-5 Hampshire
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The Independent Online

There are times when cricket ceases to be a game and instead resembles sheer hard labour. That was the case yesterday as Championship leaders Kent, like so many before them, attempted to wring runs out of a Hampshire pitch.

Second-placed Hampshire are the only team to have gained maximum batting points on this ground this year. Surrey gleaned four, while Sussex scraped three. No other team has even reached 300 in the first innings.

That made the achievements of Darren Stevens and Robert Key all the greater. Stevens, surely one of the signings of the winter, managed to reach three figures - only the second visiting batsman to do so this season and the 22nd overall on this ground.

It required plenty of patience though, and not a little prudence. The right-hander, who scored a century against the same opponents for Leicestershire last season, took the best part of three hours to reach the seventh century of his career and the third of his summer.

On the way he shared in a 100-run stand for the fourth wicket with Key, who was troubled by a groin problem - for which he later received treatment - a condition which rather inhibited his usually muscular approach.

He occupied the crease for almost four and a half hours and provided a sound base for those following. He and his fellow opener David Fulton had a solid 80 runs on the board before the Kent captain, who had survived chances on 16 and 32, became the first of three catches for Michael Brown.

Key moved unflappably on, passing 50 for the eighth time this season. A fourth Championship hundred seemed inevitable until Brown's sharpness close in did for him when he was just 12 runs away.

Stevens was there to maintain the momentum and by the time he fell for 101 Kent were within touching distance of the third bonus point, which they got in the early evening.

If runs were hard to find, so were wickets. The most successful bowler was Dimitri Mascarenhas, although Chris Tremlett and the acting captain Shaun Udal also did their bit.