Kent delayed by Prichard

Kent 525-9 dec Essex 156 and 277-5
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The Independent Online
Were it not for a doughty captain's innings by the limping Paul Prichard, Essex might well have been rolled over inside three days here, leaving the sun scorched Canterbury Festival with a blank Saturday. As it is a healthy number of Kent supporters will roll up today, expecting to celebrate victory at a crucial stage of the season, with their team in good heart to sustain a title challenge.

Kent's domination of the match was confirmed when, on Thursday evening, Martin McCague bowled a terrifying four-wicket spell in support of his side's mountain of runs. The only significant partnership of the Essex first innings then began, between the cautious Paul Grayson - a former opener now charged with shepherding a fragile tail - and Ronnie Irani, who had been somewhat reckless early in his innings.

Yesteday morning, they stiffened Essex's sinews by batting confidentally and in face-saving mode for more than an hour. There followed a remarkable collapse, even for a weary team. Paul Strang provoked it when persuaded Grayson to balloon a ball from the brisk Julian Thompson in the direction of extra cover, where the Zimbabwean secured a diving catch at ground level. After three overs, four more wickets and three further runs, Essex were following on.

Although Prichard is now in his third year as the Essex captain, by his high standards he has had a comparatively modest time with the bat since taking a double century from Sussex in August 1993. But when Graham Gooch made his sudden departure from the county game, he opened the throttle, making 120 in the old man's farewell match and now improving on that.

He is a phlegmatic, unfussy player capable of sudden bursts of unpremeditated violence. Yesterday he pulled a hamstring on 69, calling for Darren Robinson as his runner, and continued to perform while remaining almost immobile in the crease. And yet the sequence of six scoring strokes that took him past 100 were all fours, carved to every corner.

Essex members would have liked similar muscular resistance from the Stuart Law, but the Australian faced only nine balls in the match. Once more it was Grayson who extended the fight, studiously protecting his end until caught on the hop by Alan Ealham, and Danny Law continued the rearguard action. Essex ended the day 92 runs away from asking Kent to bat again.