Spinners the only winners

Middlesex 441 & 123-3 Kent 390-8 dec
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Among England's left-arm spinners, Min Patel, aged 25, is the pretender, and Phil Tufnell, now 30, is becoming the old salt.

Tufnell has played 22 matches for England; Patel got his first cap at Edgbaston 10 days ago, and will be hoping to play many more. These distinguished cricketers are playing on opposite sides at Canterbury, and another thing they have in common is that the batsmen are giving them stick. In the two first innings, the left-arm spinners conceded 227 runs between them and took only five of the 18 wickets to fall. But one of them may well win the game tomorrow; it would, however, be foolhardy to say which one.

They are different on the field as well as off (Tufnell turbulent and detached; Patel eager and energetic). Tufnell's length and line were mostly impeccable, and there were hardly any easy runs to be had. He bowled 15 overs before lunch yesterday for only 30 runs, and the wicket of Mark Ealham, who had scored 59 and was beginning to score fairly quickly.

The wicket was turning, though the venom showed only occasionally, and Tufnell had bowled one exemplary left- armer's off break, slanting across the face of Graham Cowdrey's bat. Cowdrey's wicket eventually fell to Angus Fraser, with his first delivery with the new ball (he was 51 and the stand with Ealham was worth 116), but Tufnell stayed on for a while at the other end, trying never to give the batsmen an even break.

That stand confirmed Kent's recovery from a difficult position on Friday afternoon. Kent's captain, Steve Marsh, had a rush of blood to the head and was caught behind off the last ball before lunch, but Nigel Llong scored steadily to reach 63 when Marsh decided to declare, 51 runs behind Middlesex, to give both sides an opportunity to make a game of it tomorrow.

Patel came on in the 10th over of Middlesex's second innings. He bowls off a shorter run, and he gives the ball more air, relying more on guile than Tufnell's scarcely subdued ferocity. Martin McCague had Middlesex's substitute opener Jason Harrison caught by David Fulton for 10 when the score was 25, and, without any addition, Paul Weekes was given out caught close to the stumps by Llong off Patel (though Weekes' body language said he thought he was not out).

Patel was more willing than Tufnell to bowl round the wicket into the rough (as he had done at Edgbaston last weekend). It is an efficient, but defensive form of spin bowling, rather looked down upon by the congnoscenti. But it worked; Patel's figures were 18-7-37-1. At the close Middlesex were comfortably placed - 174 runs ahead with only three wickets down, but they had not been able to take the game by the scruff of the neck.