Hooper quickstep has Essex on back foot

Cricket: Kent 323-4 v Essex
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The Independent Online
It seems strange that Carl Hooper has chosen the most unpleasant day of the season so far to play an innings of such charm and elegance that blue skies, high temperatures and a packed crowd should have been the natural accompaniment.

Coming in at 49 for 2 with the spinners already bowling, he scored 155 out of 264 while he was at the crease. He faced 174 balls and hit three sixes and 20 fours, and put on 224 in 49 overs for the fourth wicket with Graham Cowdrey.

The figures were impressive enough and yet they tell nothing of the grace and beauty of the stroke play. Although Hoo- per is in some respects an enigmatic figure, there is no one else in the contemporary game who is able to bat in the way that Fred Astaire once danced.

It is unhurried ease backed up by impeccable footwork, timing and judgement. After two defensive strokes against Peter Such, he faced John Childs. He took two steps down the pitch for the first ball and drove it into the crowd at long-off. Not a bad start.

He played strokes all round the wicket, dominating the spinners and dismissing the seamers. He went on until the fourth over after tea, when he came down the pitch and lifted Childs to deep square leg, where Nasser Hussain held a good sliding catch.

It is bad luck having to bat with Hooper in this form, and yet Cowdrey reached his 50 in 67 balls to Hooper's 69. Cowdrey hits the ball hard and his strokes had a more staccato effect than Hooper's, being the product of power and strong forearms rather than an innate sense of timing.

Cowdrey, who might have been caught at slip off Mark Ilott when on 63, was 10 short of his hundred when the rain brought to an end a day when a fearsome east wind seemed to go through body and soul. On a pitch which will take spin increasingly, Kent's score, after they had won the toss, had given them the advantage.

They did not begin so well. With the score at 30 in Such's second over, Matthew Fleming tried to force through the off-side and was caught behind. Trevor Ward was second out, caught behind cutting at Childs, and David Fulton, who produced some good strokes off the back foot, was bowled cutting at Such with the score at 89.