Ward keeps Leicestershire in the hunt

Leicestershire 425 & 305-6 Kent 390
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The Independent Online

A century by Trevor Ward against his former county helped Leicestershire escape some early trouble here yesterday but may not have been enough to set up a winning position against a Kent side who stuck to their guns doggedly in wilting heat.

Despite a brief but dazzling interlude in which Shahid Afridi seemed to have mis-taken the occasion for a 40-over game, one suspects Leicestershire's speed of scoring will not prove to have been enough to create a realistic opportunity to bowl Kent out a second time with an attack lacking a specialist spinner.

They take a lead of 340 into the final day with four wickets still standing, which is a strong enough position if quick runs can be added this morning. However, given that a draw will take Leicestershire ahead of Kent in the Championship table, captain Vince Wells can be expected to avoid any unnecessary risk in the timing of any declaration on a docile pitch.

Kent are well equipped to chase but equally blessed with blockers too should the wheels come off, making a draw the likeliest outcome.

In many ways, Leicestershire's difficulties have been of their own making. Having made 425 in the first innings with the help of the tail, their poor fielding and undistinguished bowling allowed Kent to escape from 153 for 5 on Saturday, when four catches went down, the most costly of which handed a life to Matthew Walker 20, who went on to better that score by a hundred. Walker finished unbeaten yesterday morning as Kent reached 390.

Given that Ward was the offending fielder when Walker enjoyed his good fortune, the Leicestershire opener can be said to have repaid his debt with his fourth century this season. He did play well, even though he also had some luck when dropped at 78, unfurling some handsome drives to both sides of the wicket in gathering 17 fours and a six.

After Iain Sutcliffe, Ben Smith and Aftab Habib had shared in the unwanted co-incidence of each being out for five as Kent's Ben Trott and Martin Saggers made intelligent use of the new ball, Ward's partnership of 129 with Darren Maddy was vital.

His own achievement clearly meant something to Ward, who struggled nervously through the nineties before scrambling a single off David Fulton just before tea amid obvious relief.

Surprisingly, Ward struggled to progress much further, hooking Saggers to long leg early in the final session, giving the Kent paceman his ninth wicket in the match, and it was probably to Leicestershire's benefit that he should give way to the astounding Afridi, who proceeded to launch a blitz of airborne strokes more in keeping with the one-day cricket in which he excels.

Lifting Saggers over a very long mid-wicket boundary, blasting Trott clear over cover and sending rookie spinner James Tredwell over the radio commentary box atop the pavilion, the Pakistan all-rounder hit three marvellous sixes in his 22-ball stay, as well as five fours.

However, he holed out to the mid-wicket boundary attempting another huge blow. Maddy, himself dropped on 16, went on to reach 98 not out at the close, giving Leicestershire the upper hand. The first hour today will probably be the most important.

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