Smith hits double century as Lancashire toil in sun

Kent 384-4 v Lancashire
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The Independent Online

Ed Smith's flashing blade may be Lancashire's last memory as they sink into another season of chagrin.

Whether Harbhajan Singh's signing, had he ever arrived, would have tipped the balance remains a question but there is little doubt that the lack of another Test-class bowler for the run-in will be decisive.

They began this scorching day in Stanley Park 51 points behind leaders Surrey, which means that the two matches in hand both have to be won.

Gary Keedy, Kyle Hogg and Iain Sutcliffe are all convalescing. England's withdrawal of Andrew Flintoff and Jimmy Anderson left the chairman, Jack Simmons, seething over Flintoff. "I'm flabbergasted. Freddie will go into back-to-back Tests next week without a first-class match for six weeks," he said. "Where's the common sense?"

Where indeed? The amiable Flintoff spent the day giving interviews, signing autographs and gazing wistfully into the middle. Anderson, meanwhile, was rumoured to be playing in a charity match in Burnley.

Ironically, what Sky TV screened and the 3,000 crowd appreciated was a classic innings by a thoroughly English batsman. Smith, of Tonbridge and Cambridge, has trained with the New York Mets and written a bestseller. Yesterday he hit his fourth century in five Championship innings. He became the first domestic player to reach 1,000 runs for the season when he reached 194 and was two short of overtaking Peter Kirsten as the highest scoring visiting batsman at Blackpool when he was bowled by a low ball from Carl Hooper for a career-best 203.

David Fulton will not win a better toss all season. Early humidity gave Peter Martin some swing, hence Robert Key's quick dismissal, but the pitch was flat and the outfield like flecked green marble.

Kent had reached 146 for 2 by lunch, and Lancashire already looked ragged and sweaty. Smith raised 122 with Fulton in 27 overs, the former connecting so sweetly and swiftly that his bat, for four hours, sang a different song: 50 off 53 balls, 101 off 114, 200 soon after tea.

Lancashire's weakness extended beyond absent players. Boundary fielding was occasionally sloppy and Anderson's deputy, Sajid Mahmood, was erratic, as was leg-spinner Chris Schofield. Stuart Law had to leave the field with an upset stomach. Lancashire's three seamers, just standing, and Hooper earned their corn.

Andrew Symonds departed in the first over after lunch, Glen Chapple getting one to move late. Matthew Walker might have been caught off Hooper at silly mid-off when 70, but is now close to becoming the innings' second centurion.

Smith got a standing ovation from the whole ground and must have returned to a beaming dressing-room. This pitch is already dusting up and later today we shall see how good are Kent's young spinners.