Ealham launches rescue operation

Kent 356-7 v Leicestershire
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The Independent Online
If the blueprint that Lord MacLaurin is about to propose for the English game includes the invention of Aussie style monikers for county sides, then Kent should be known as the Eastern Escapologists. Failed, not for the first time this season, by their early order, the tail once again turned round an unpromising 126 for 5 to finish the day on 356 for 7, a recovery Houdini himself would have been proud to have performed.

On this occasion, it was Mark Ealham who orchestrated the fightback with an unbeaten 96 which took five hours and combined stoic belligerence with bold strokeplay. It is a combination that so epitomises the Kentish way it is difficult to believe he was on the verge of moving counties a few years ago.

With Ealham having already spent nine overs in the nineties, it is clear that Kent, having won the toss, will continue batting today. They clearly believe this pitch will turn and their batting towards the end of the day betrayed their goal of getting as many runs as they can before the surface starts to grip.

It was by no means a solo effort, however, and Ealham's stirling work was matched for the most part by Paul Strang, whose 82 was his highest score for Kent. The Zimbabwean, more used to featuring in headlines praising his bowling - "Strang up by the Googlies" is one such possibility if this pitch turns as much as Kent hope it will - is certainly no mug with the willow and he nudged and squirted Leicestershire's now lukewarm attack to distraction.

More importantly for Kent, he helped Ealham to add 145 for the seventh wicket and the body blow that rendered Leicestershire's morning bonanza superfluous. Interestingly, it was only Kent's fourth hundred partnership of the season, a tally that has been scored exclusively by their seventh wicket and lower. Like an Afghan hound with a bouffant, it is sometimes difficult to tell which way round this Kent side are.

That will be no consolation for the county champions, who are not having a good season. Their bowling, despite their pre-lunch successes when seamer James Ormond took three quick wickets, lacked spirit and had Kent's top order not been in such a hurry to get back to the pavilion, the day could have been far worse.

Ed Smith, David Fulton and Trevor Ward with a scintillating fifty all got starts. Ward, his strokes as crisp and clean-sounding as a thunderflash, belted all-comers to all parts before hesitation brought his downfall in the shape of a return catch to Adrian Pierson.

The game, one of a possible two televised by Sky, was not however graced by Kent's latest Test star Dean Headley, who withdrew following a late fitness test on a side strain. But although he hopes to be fit enough to play on Sunday, the Kent physio warned that any further pull could put him out for up to six weeks. With the Ashes poised in the balance it is one prognosis that England will, according to coach David Lloyd, monitor closely before the next Test.