Sussex tails were wagging in every sense yesterday as they finished marginally ahead on the opening day of this "local derby".
But for the second Championship match running the upper order was put to shame as the last four wickets garnered a precious 86 runs – one more than they managed against Middlesex the previous week.
And once their innings was over, for far more runs than had seemed likely at one point, the Sussex attack knocked Kent on to the back foot, whipping out the top three batsmen inside 11 overs.
At least there was some good news off the field for Kent. Their captain, David Fulton, who suffered a nasty injury to his right eye when having net practice against a bowling machine and needed reconstructive surgery on his tear ducts and upper eyelid, could be back with them in a couple of months.
Fulton was told yesterday he will never recover 20-20 vision in the eye, but was given every indication by specialists that his career is not in jeopardy and that his peripheral vision, while not perfect, should improve over the next two months.
Kent could have done with him when they began their reply. Robert Key shouldered arms to James Kirtley in the second over, his opening partner Michael Carberry was strangled down the leg side by Jason Lewry, gloving a catch to the wicketkeeper Matthew Prior, and Ed Smith got a good ball in Kevin Innes' first over that lifted and left him late with Kent still 250 runs adrift.
It needed some cautious platform-building with a half-century stand by Matthew Walker and the Australian Greg Blewett to get Kent back on track by the close.
But Sussex had fared little better after being put in. They floundered against Kent's winter signing Alamgir Sheriyar, who deservedly collected his 22nd five-wicket haul with his high-class left-arm swing bowling.
For a while it looked as if Sussex's version of the AA – Chris Adams and Tim Ambrose – would be able to repair the damage as they added 51 for the fourth wicket. But in the second over after lunch, and having reached his half-century in the previous one, the Sussex captain Adams drove a trifle injudiciously at Sheriyar and presented Blewett with the a catch at slip.
No one else managed to stay the course, either. No sooner had batsmen settled in than they were out. And they also had huge chunks of luck, Prior dropped before getting off the mark (off Sheriyar), Adams on 42 watched helplessly as a ball from the stand-in Kent captain, Mark Ealham, rolled back on to his stumps but failed to dislodge either bail and later Kirtley was missed at wide mid-off by Smith.
Only the dogged wagging of the tail saw them to a modicum of respectability. The last man Lewry, a left-hander not quite in the class of David Gower but still able to lash the ball through the covers, scored 91 runs in 15 Championship innings last summer. This year in three outings he has already reached 75 runs.
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