Fleming makes Essex sweat

Kent 525-9 dec; Essex 80-5
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The Independent Online
After vicious overnight rain, yesterday was hot, sultry and airless, a combination that may have caused wistful men of Kent to remember the days of uncovered wickets and Derek Underwood.

This was Ladies' Day and many of them sported hats of Ascot pretensions. The ground was even fuller than on the first day, and those more interested in cricket than millinery saw a pageant of perspiring bowlers and prospering Kent batsmen. The most prosperous by far was the dashing Matthew Fleming.

Every bonus point is of value as a closely fought Championship enters its final third and the home side began the day on top. Their ambition was to pile up brisk batting points, shut Essex out of the game and then trust to a bowling attack less compromised by injury than that of the visitors. As it turned out, Martin McCague wanted to do it all himself.

Having returned his first three-figure score for Kent on Wednesday, Alan Wells soon snicked to second slip, bringing in Fleming to join Mark Ealham. They made only steady progress during the morning, but the rest of a sweltering day was entertainment indeed.

Fleming is ever the adventurer and while Ealham batted solidly, with a point to prove to the England selectors, Fleming blossomed. After Ealham fell, Steve Marsh, the best No 9 on the circuit, promoted himself a notch. Then came a remarkable 40-ball cameo from Paul Strang, scampering and bludgeoning in support of Fleming.

With four balls from Peter Such to go to tea, Fleming secured the ninth century of his career and approaching a personal best to make sure of it, he hit the four deliveries for 18 runs.

Declaration after tea left Essex with an awkward 23 overs to face. Too awkward for Paul Prichard, castled by a rampant McCague, who then greeted debutant Tim Hodgson with of a fizzing bouncer.

In this session, McCague bowled as fast and brutally as anyone this season and the big man kept Kent's supporters cheering with a remarkable demolition derby after Prichard, Darren Robinson, Stuart Law and Neil Williams were comprehensively mugged, and Kent were cock-a-hoop.