Row simmers over Fulton's 'daft' deal
Most of the grumbling has come from Hampshire, who would have remained in the title hunt had Kent won or the game been drawn and who would have entertained Nottinghamshire in a championship decider in the final week of the season. As it was, the game was virtually meaningless, and a weakened and distracted Nottinghamshire were routed by an innings as Hampshire had to be content with second place.
What has caused the disquiet is the manufactured declaration between David Fulton, Kent's captain, and Stephen Fleming, who was leading Nottinghamshire. At the end of the third day Kent, who had to win to stay in the title race, were on the backfoot at 237 for 5 in reply to Nottinghamshire's 486 for 8. Had Nottinghamshire bowled them out for less than 337 they could have enforced the follow on, but had they failed, then the match would have probably petered out in a draw.
Fulton, therefore, agreed to declare Kent's innings in return for Fleming not enforcing the follow on. The arrangement was that Nottinghamshire would set Kent a target to chase, albeit a virtually impossible one of 420 runs in 70 overs, and Kent fed them runs to speed up the process. Matthew Walker, an occasional bowler, lobbed up a succession of full tosses and went for 95 runs in nine overs. In the end Kent fell well short, being bowled out for 205.
Rob Bromsgrove, Hampshire's chairman, was left deeply unhappy, and in today's Times he made clear his unease. "Fulton's decision to go for that target was daft and it certainly had a bearing on the championship," he told the newspaper. "I have had an explanation from the ECB and apparently what he did was within the rules. Next year we shall have to make sure we are ten points ahead in the table."
The mood at Southampton when Nottinghamshire visited four days later was disctinctly icy, and Shane Warne went public with his views. "I think that is one of the dumbest things I have ever seen," he said. "I thought Fulton actually understood the game, but he must dislike us totally to go and hand someone the championship like that. It came from a guy who is meant to know a little bit about the game. He showed everyone that it is just bravado, because he has absolutely no idea what is going on."
But Fulton, who stepped down as Kent captain earlier this week, said that Bransgrove had been brushed off by the ECB, and added that "Warne's comments were affected by a difficult summer as a result of the loss of the Ashes and what happened in his personal life. Because of who he is, people take notice of what he has to say, but I don't think anyone took his comments too seriously.
"I know how to negotiate a deal and Nottinghamshire did not need to give us a sniff of a chance. No one likes to see declaration bowling taking place, but a little bit of creativity is preferable to a dull draw. My concern was for Kent, not Hampshire."
Such late-season creativity is not uncommon. Last week at The Oval, Middlesex declared on 404 for 5 on a batting paradise to deprive Surrey of a vital bonus point in a match which they had to win to send Middlesex down. As a result, Surrey romped to an innings win after scoring 686 for 5, but were still relegated, although Middlesex were far from motivated once their first division safety was assured. In 2003, Worcestershire declared their first innings behind in a low-scoring game to deprive Northamptonshire of bonus point and in doing so pipped them to the second division title even though they lost the match as a result.