Lawrence makes a great mistake

RACE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP: Good day for Kent at Gloucestershire's expense while main rivals are frustrated
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The dropped catch that brought Syd Lawrence to his knees yesterday morning could well turn out to be symbolic of Gloucestershire's condition (and their title hopes) later today after Kent's batsmen carved up their rivals' attack at will. They then handed the reins over to their bowlers who had whipped out four of the West Country batsmen by the close of another absorbing day's cricket.

Sadly Lawrence was but a bulkier shadow of his former ferocious self on this eponymous ground. The beneficiary of Lawrence's miss off a low, hard and eminently catchable drive to mid-off was Trevor Ward. The Kent man had just half a dozen runs to his name at that point.

That was just the beginning of the torture for Lawrence. Not only was he forced to watch Ward piling up runs for much of the day, but also when the big man returned in mid-afternoon he was dismissed for three thumping boundaries as he went for 35 more runs in just three overs. And by the time Kent captain Steve Marsh declared some 30 minutes after tea Ward strolled off unbeaten on 161.

In the intervening period he had made bowling look impossible. It was his first Championship hundred since May 1996 (coincidentally yesterday's magnificent innings equalled his last one) and it could not have been more timely. His four and a half-hour occupation of the crease was studded with piercing drives and powerful pulls.

He and Alan Wells broke the back of the Gloucestershire challenge with a monumental third-wicket stand of 193 in 43 punishing overs. Wells was in equally commanding form with the bat and it was unfortunate that he fell just half a dozen runs away from a deserved century when he miscued a pull to mid-wicket. He did have the consolation of passing 1,000 runs for the season when he reached 58 and of course it was his second fifty of the match.

Ward carried on regardless, untouchable. By the end he had 21 fours to his name and his solitary six came in the last over of the innings. Perhaps the most telling period came when Ward was joined by Matthew Walker, who until yesterday had been sadly lacking form.

It took the diminutive left-hander just 37 balls to thrash himself back into nick. He blasted his way to 51 - his first fifty of the summer - in the process helping to put on 76 in 40 minutes either side of tea with Ward.

His departure provided one of two bright spots in an otherwise dismal day for Lawrence. Walker's lofted shot was well taken by the former England fast bowler at mid-off. And later, when his team-mates were losing their heads and their wickets first to Dean Headley and then to Paul Strang, Lawrence came out in a nightwatchman role and survived one chance (to Headley at slip off Strang) and a chorus of appeals for other catches at the wicket in the 11 nerve-racking balls he had to face, with up to eight men around the bat. He will have to face plenty more today if Gloucestershire are to stave off defeat.