Mohammad Sami bowled Kent to the top of the County Championship yesterday when he took 6 for 99 as Northamptonshire were dismissed for 264. Kent's 145-run victory at Northampton earned them 19 points and that, combined with Middlesex's failure to beat Surrey at The Oval, was enough to earn them a place at the summit.
Martin van Jaarsveld tried to form a one-man barrier to Kent's ambitions as he worked his way patiently to a century. But his efforts were constantly undermined by the performance of Sami, who led the visitors' assault by picking off the South African's partners.
The Pakistani fast bowler, who took 4 for 39 in the first innings, punctured Northamptonshire's pursuit of the 410 they needed for victory by removing the openers, Timothy Roberts and Mark Powell, on Friday and continued yesterday by gaining leg before decisions against the troublesome nightwatchman Johann Louw, in the last over before lunch, and Graham Swann before helping to mop up the tail.
But it was Min Patel, enjoying his return after missing most of last season with back trouble, who finally spiked Northamptonshire's resistance. He induced Van Jaarsveld to hit his stumps in trying to cut. The South African was seventh man out for 116 after five and three-quarter hours and his departure brought an air of inevitability to the match.
Kent's victory had been set up on Friday by Robert Key, whose impressive 173 must have attracted some attention at Lord's, where his former England colleagues were facing New Zealand. Another who has slipped from the Test arena, James Foster, showed that he can produce the quality of batting required these days of a Test wicketkeeper. Foster carried on where he left off on Friday to complete a double century at Chelmsford against Leicestershire in the Second Division.
Foster all but doubled his career-best score by reaching 212 before falling caught behind off the medium pace of the Australian Mark Cleary. He helped Essex to declare 198 runs ahead on 708 for 9, but their hopes of victory were slim. Leicestershire set course comfortably enough for a draw despite the Pakistani leg-spinner Danish Kaneria claiming his second three-wicket haul of the match.
Horsham proved a batsman's paradise, too, with Sussex amassing 562 in reply to Warwickshire's 600 for 6 declared in the First Division. At 188 for 2 in their second innings, the visitors brought down the curtain on an aimless encounter. At least Ian Bell took the chance to add an unbeaten 62 to the career-best 262 he had scored for Warwickshire in the first innings.
Another to extract some satisfaction from the match was Warwickshire's South African pace man, Dewald Pretorius. He did his confidence no harm in such unhelpful conditions by finishing with 4 for 119 from 33 overs.
How different things might have been had Warwickshire clung on to the five catches they spilled on Friday. Mushtaq Ahmed was the benficiary of another drop yesterday as he made 62 off 75 balls, but the match cried out for an adventurous declaration, not more batting practice.
In the Second Division, Somerset survived a tense moment at Derby to deny Derbyshire. At 64 for 2 in their second innings, they could have wobbled but John Francis dug in to score 68 in three and a quarter hours before being stumped off the South African Ant Botha. Ian Blackwell made sure of the draw by adding a much quicker 64 in the afternoon.