Sussex 399 Kent 295-6: Arafat's explosive pace makes up for absence of Mushtaq

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The Independent Online

Just as it seemed they would bemoan the absence of Mushtaq Ahmed from a situation ripe for exploitation by their wrist-spinning wizard, Sussex had another Pakistani, the pace bowler Yasir Arafat, to thank for seizing back the initiative here yesterday after Kent's middle order had threatened their ambitions with a bold comeback.

Ruled out with a neck strain, Mushtaq is missing a Championship match for the first time since he joined the staff at Hove in 2003, since which time he has taken 320 first-class wickets in 57 matches at an average of 25 runs each.

The latest 53 of those have come this season, propelling Sussex to a position from which they can overtake Lancashire in this match with just one more bonus point today. Yet after Darren Stevens and Matthew Walker had shared a partnership of 188 as the outfield became almost visibly parched in unrelenting sun, the win they would need in order to open up a gap looked less certain.

Sussex had found themselves in circumstances that would have been perfect for Mushtaq. Building on 355 for 8 overnight, they missed out agonisingly on a fifth batting point but had played themselves into a handsome position, none the less.

The last four wickets had added 175 as Michael Yardy, who reached 134 before gloving a catch to the wicketkeeper, found solid late support, and as Kent slipped rapidly to 34 for 3, they looked even better placed.

Yet after James Kirtley and Jason Lewry had taken a wicket each - David Fulton falling first ball to the latter in an uncanny reprise of the first day's dramatic opening - and Robert Key had run himself out, Stevens and Walker organised a recovery. Stevens smoothly constructed his first hundred of the season, reserving harsh punishment in particular for the off-spinner, Ollie Rayner, against whom he hit three sixes.

Yet the balance swung back in Sussex's favour with an explosive evening spell from Arafat, the 24-year-old from Rawalpindi who has replaced Rana Naved as second overseas player. Working up a decent pace down the hill, Arafat broke the partnership when Stevens was leg before trying to work the ball on the leg side and picked up a second success when Dwayne Bravo hooked straight to Kirtley at long leg.

Walker, who had taken a painful blow on the forearm, then edged to the wicketkeeper on 87. Kent avoided the follow-on but will need another recovery today to erase a substantial deficit.