Moles digs in vain for victory

Kent 258 and 164 Warwickshire 137 and 253 Kent won by 32 runs
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By beating the county champions by 32 runs, Kent have gone to the top of the Britannic Assurance table. Since they were bottom of it at the end of last season, this is a notable achievement, but it was not accomplished without some unexpected drama and a nerve-racking passage of play, when it looked as though Warwickshire might snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

At lunch yesterday Warwickshire were 138 for seven, 148 behind Kent, and in the members' dining room the game was pronounced over. Andy Moles had retired hurt the night before with a badly bruised thumb, and poor Tim Munton, on his return to the side after weeks off injured, had strained his back. The knowing members were sure that neither would bat.

Graham Welch then hit the third ball after lunch hard into the covers, where Matthew Fleming took a good diving catch. That was it, surely. Kent's players hugged each other as if it was, and Ashley Giles, at the bowler's end, did not know whether to go or stay. For a while, no batsman appeared, and then the substantial, reassuring figure of Andy Moles appeared from the dressing room and strode to the wicket, looking not the least put out.

The next over was bowled by Dean Headley, who - along with Martin McCague, who took five wickets - had caused Warwickshire's top order batsmen acute discomfort, as balls pitching only just short of a length reared up towards the head, or shot through to the wicketkeeper. This was a typically spiteful Edgbaston pitch, and, for a change, Warwickshire were experiencing a taste of their own medicine and clearly hating it.

Headley's over went for four, six, four, dot, six, four. Moles's style remained unchanged - or rather, lack of style, because he had discarded the coaching manual and was trusting to his eye and his luck. Both were very good.

Moles reached his 50 in 25 balls and cracked along at such a pace that hardly anyone noticed that Giles was scoring quickly too. When Moles was out for 76 off only 45 balls, the pair had put on 92 in 10 overs, and Warwickshire were only 54 behind.

Munton came in with a runner and Giles took over as senior partner. Another four overs went by, the 250 went up and Kent's captain, Steve Marsh, gambled on Fleming producing the right stock ball at the right time.

He did so with his fourth, which was edged to Marsh, who juggled it, but Carl Hooper held on. Giles's remarkable 65 in 71 balls had brought Warwickshire within hailing distance of victory, but it wasn't enough, and the champions' unconvincing start to the season (won three, lost three) looked even shakier.