Irani hits England reminder

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The Independent Online
Kent 590

Essex 306 and 111-2

The spin-bowler gets more pity than most in freezing weather, but at Valentine's Park yesterday the Essex batsmen did enough for Carl Hooper and Min Patel to feel a warm glow inside them as Kent maintained their early-season form in the County Championship. Essex, having won their first two matches, faced up to the prospect of comprehensive defeat.

In the sort of conditions that left one to wonder how the game ever got off the ground in England, Essex made a blundering attempt to knock a hole in the 590 that Kent had amassed on Friday. They were forced to follow on, and ended the day still 173 runs adrift with eight second-innings wickets standing.

What it boils down to now is how quickly Kent can get rid of Essex's remaining batsmen tomorrow. Graham Gooch and Nasser Hussain have both gone, and Hooper and Patel are making the most of a stage which, partly because of the poor light, has so far been left to them almost exclusively. In the session after tea, Darren Robinson and Stuart Law brought a measure of watchfulness that had not been there earlier in the day, and for all the regularity with which Kent are beseeching the umpires with their appeals, these two may yet take some shifting.

Rarely does slow bowling so dominate proceedings, and very beguiling it was, too. Of the 126 overs bowled in the day, Hooper was responsible for 55, taking two for 154, and Patel for 57, taking five for 144.

For those Essex supporters who cared more about their team than they did about their own physical comfort, there were bright spots, notably from Ronnie Irani, the 24-year-old all-rounder who is this morning expected to be named in the England squad for the Texaco Trophy series against India, starting on Thursday.

Coming in at 149 for five, Irani hit some cracking shots in his 50 off 64 balls. At 6ft 3in, he can take a big step down the wicket, and once he has decided to attack, he hits the ball hard indeed. Having struck Hooper for a six straight down the ground, he did the same to Patel to bring up his half-century, and Kent, who at one stage had seven men around the bat, looked as if they might finally have to give serious thought to defence. But three balls later Irani holed out at deep extra cover.

It was a typical dismissal on a day when Essex, 70 for two overnight, had decided caution would not resolve a crisis. Patel was roughly treated to start with, Nasser Hussain hitting him for four fours in his first over. But then he lured Graham Gooch down the wicket and had him stumped before Law hit him to Mark Ealham at midwicket.

Hooper, meanwhile, having scored 155 in Kent's first innings, was bowling beautifully at the other end, loping up to the wicket and doing most of the damage in the flight. He had Hussain and Paul Prichard caught behind before Patel got rid of Irani and Robert Rollins, and McCague came back with the new ball to polish off the tail.

At the start of Essex's follow-on, Gooch was out conveniently quickly bearing in mind his England selectors' meeting last night, and Hussain was leg before padding up. A salvage operation was well and truly under way.

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