Reliable Ripley defies the inevitable

Kent 108 and 576-8 dec Northants 357 and 199-9 Match drawn
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The Independent Online

The old Championship, or rather the new Championship of two divisions, can still captivate. It might be a competition full of stumblebums, has- beens, never-weres and never- will-bes, not to mention sub-standard cricket which nobody under the age of 73 watches, but apart from that it is in reasonable order.

Take this match at the St Lawrence ground. It veered between the sublime and the ridiculous, with both teams possessing their fair share of each, but it went down to the last ball of the fourth day. Kent, striving to be First Division runners-up, finally drew against Northamptonshire, desperate to avoid relegation.

The match had undergone a remarkable transformation which Kent could not quite complete. Northamptonshire had little option but to try to chase a target of 328 in a minimum of 69 overs. They fell far short, partly thanks to the frenetic manner they set about their task, and at 95 for 6 were staring defeat in the face. But they were saved by their captain, David Ripley, playing in his penultimate match.

Ripley perhaps falls into the category of never-quite-weres, but has played more than 300 matches for his county since being a schoolboy whizz as a wicketkeeper. This was his 34th half-century, and to each of the 164 balls he faced he exuded defiance. North-amptonshire might be going down, but Ripley was ensuring they will not be going easy.

Kent did not quite have the bowling resources necessary. It had still been some turnaround. On the first morning, Kent had been bowled out for 108 in 25 overs and two hours and then saw Northamptonshire make 357. By the time the home side declared their second innings at lunch it had spanned 171 overs and almost 11 hours. Mark Ealham, having made 137 runs all season, took his overnight century to a career-best 153. It was not riproaring but it served his team well.

Unless Northamptonshire beat Somerset at Taunton next week and results go for them elsewhere they will be playing in the Second Division next season, whoever it is sponsored by. It would mean that the trio – Essex and Glamorgan are the others – who were promoted last summer are relegated this. The calls for two-up, two-down cannot be long in arriving. An élite, or what passes for it in English county cricket – a lower-middle class with a couple of cars in the drive, perhaps – is forming.

This is the time of year to reflect on what went wrong and what should be done. England lost to Australia, so blame the Championship. There is plenty of substance in this, but those in thrall to the power and influence of Test cricket would do well to reflect on the Test match between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh which ended yesterday. Two Sri Lankans retired out, so woeful were the opposition. It demeans the game. That does not happen in the Championship.

Kent have done well this season to win four matches and have been well served by their batsmen, six of whom have made hundreds. A place in the top three was barely predictable back in May and they would settle for it now.

Their keenness to make it second has doubtless been enhanced by the prize money. There is £50,000 for being second, nothing for being third. Whereas the Second Division champions, effectively the 10th best team in the country, receive £40,000.

This is inequitable. ECB administrators would make better use of their time addressing that issue rather than giving the scorer another metaphorical kicking. In some yet-to-be-confirmed deal with the Press Association – or whoever wins the tender for buying the scores, as if they were anybody's to sell – scorers will have to give a running commentary on every ball nest season on an open telephone line.

This is in addition to their duties of keeping a book and computer scoring, and they have been told they can like it or lump it. The carrot is that there will be a scorer of the month and of the season. It would have been fun watching this procedure in operation during the tense finish yesterday.