Tolley exposes Kent's folly

Cricket: Nottinghamshire 214 &167-6 Kent 244
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The Independent Online
Amid the fetching, if cold, late-summer splendour of Tunbridge Wells, it was difficult to believe that a titanic struggle for the County Championship was being enacted. This was less to do with genteel, tented surroundings being inappropriate for such a contest than with Nottinghamshire being incapable of putting up a struggle of any kind.

With Kent in urgent need of every point they could muster to stay in contention for the title, it might be thought that Nottinghamshire, after a barren first-class season, would adopt an attitude of "over our dead bodies". Instead, they chose an approach along the lines of "come and get it". If the pitch was not altogether trustworthy and afforded some seam movement, it was compounded by some feeble batting. As each unthoughtful stroke succeeded another you could feel the defenders of the County Championship and its grand traditions digging and climbing into a deep hole. That Kent have been the more resilient, efficient side this summer is obvious, but that Nottinghamshire should pander so eagerly to their strengths does little for the competition.

Not that Kent were exactly bristling with burning ambition early in the day. It is 18 seasons since they won the title, but it might as well have been 18 minutes, so careless was their manner. Against an attack not noted for menace they began the day on 108 for three, 106 behind, and lost their last seven wickets by early afternoon in establishing a lead of 30.

Carl Hooper, who played an off-drive of casual beauty for four early on to register his seventh fifty of the summer, was out soon after driving to gully. He was caught splendidly by the substitute Richard Bates - on for Nottinghamshire's most incisive bowler, Chris Cairns, who had an injured groin - diving to his left. The rest followed, many of them victims of intemperate strokes and smart catching, which at least demonstrated that one part of Nottinghamshire's game is in reasonable order. The slender lead shortly seemed substantial.

Mark Ealham, playing his first match for a month and bowling not only for a Championship but for an England tour place, took four welcome wickets in 11 overs. He was assisted initially by Ashley Metcalfe's slice to third man, before finding the edge of Tim Robinson's bat more legitimately. Matthew Dowman did nothing more than chip to mid-on, Paul Johnson pulled across the line and was out lbw. At 73 for five there was a partnership of 32 and some more late but little resistance. Had 108 overs not been lost to the weather earlier in the match, here was another four-day contest which could have been over in two.

Until Chris Tolley's sturdy fifty off 105 balls, which perhaps also demonstrated some of Kent's shortcomings, it bordered on the abject. But if championships should not be won in such circumstances, they have occurred elsewhere in the past few days. Sides with nothing to play for have sadly played as if for nothing. Kent, after being the victims of rain this summer - they needed only five Derbyshire wickets with a day to play while ahead by a street, and hardly had a game of any kind against Glamorgan - may surmise they deserve nothing less.

There is a downbeat mood among their characteristically healthy support. From demanding everything in sight in the Seventies they have come to expect nothing. By the end of the day, hope at least was revived. Tunbridge Wells is not usually the scene of such significant matches. Kent normally arrive at the venue in June when the Championship table, if not the rhododendrons, is embryonic. There were moments yesterday when Nottinghamshire looked likemen searching for dead flowers.