Bopara struggles in tame draw
Kent 225 (Stevens 119, Willoughby 5-70) and 92 for 2 drew with Essex 181 (Pettini 92, Davies 4-20)
It would have been funny if it had not been so serious for Ravi Bopara, a man with almost-certainly dashed England hopes. He batted today with a runner for just over an hour and a half, ran himself out in classic village green style and did not appear in the field for the fag end of this Division Two stalemate.
Although Essex were optimistic about Bopara's ability to be fit for the first Test against West Indies, starting at Lord's on Thursday, the evidence of his innings suggested England would be unwise to take the gamble. He suffered a "slight tear" to his right thigh in the field on Friday and though he batted for his team, at No. 8, in pursuit of bonus points, his discomfort was clear.
During an over in the morning Essex had four batsmen on the square while Bopara and Alviro Petersen used runners, a rare occurrence for a partnership at first-class level, perhaps in any cricket. Bopara looked far from sprightly when he instinctively moved into a run with a midwicket stroke off Ivan Thomas and pulled up with a ghastly stagger. After some scurried runs seemingly in all directions, and five balls without any real mishap, both batsmen sent off their assistants - though Bopara was publicly persuaded to change his mind by the Essex physio Chris Clarke-Irons. So Greg Smith trotted back on, while Petersen, hobbling on a sore ankle, did his best without Tom Westley.
With no sign of declarations or targets, Essex's innings creaked along, owing just about all momentum to Mark Pettini. The last three wickets fell for no runs when Charlie Shreck picked up two in two and Bopara ran himself out, finally forgetting his runner. Bopara pushed a Mark Davies delivery into the covers and set off for the single, reaching 'safety' at the other end along with his runner before realising he should have stayed at the crease. Kent did not spot their opportunity until Shreck screamed at his colleagues to get the ball back to wicketkeeper Geraint Jones, who removed the bails at leisure.
Pettini, seeking his first Championship hundred for three seasons, batted exceptionally well, though he struggled to score against the constant probing by Davies, the pick of the Kent attack. Resuming on 61, Pettini cut effectively, concentrated well and look set for his much-needed century when Thomas seamed one back into him to win an lbw shout and the innings tailed off after that.
Thomas, 20, impressed as a Championship rookie with more whip in his action than one might think. He has had first-class experience with Leeds-Bradford University this season, including the destruction of a callow Sussex side, when he took 6 for 21 in the second innings in Leeds. A memorable maiden wicket for Kent came courtesy of a flying goalkeeper catch in the covers by Brendon Nash, clinging to a full-blooded cut by Essex's captain James Foster.
Both counties harbour expectations of climbing out of this division, but it was a shame that some sort of arrangement could not be reached. Kent, 131 ahead overnight, might have persuaded Essex to chase something as they held some aces in Davies, Shreck and the England offspinner James Tredwell. Thomas could also have been added to the mix on an easing, but still helpful, Chelmsford strip.
With Bopara and Petersen unfit, Essex's batting looked depleted. "The problem with declaring overnight would have been forfeiting batting points, though as it turned out we didn't get any," Foster said. "We weren't expecting to get only 181; we were hoping to get 350. A chase would have been quite a risk as the ball was nibbling about."
Rob Key felt he lost "a horror" of a toss and was elated that his Kent side had gained a first innings lead after their collapse to 9 for 5, thanks mainly to a superb century by Darren Stevens. As so often in county cricket, the effort of fighting back seemed to inflate the fear of defeat. "It was so wet on the first day and by the end it was so dry," Key said. "We thought it was going to be hard work trying to set up a game. I felt we would have to throw up so many and we would only have two sessions, if that, to bowl. The pitch didn't deteriorate enough to make it interesting. Essex would have been able to block out, so that the result was either a win for them or a draw."