Derbyshire restore sanity after White six
Derbyshire 86 (Palladino 27, Thomas 3-31) and 169 for 1 (Hughes 82*, Godleman 61*) require a further 63 runs to beat Kent 205 and 112 (Bell-Drummond 45, White 6-25)
At three minutes past three on the second day, so began the fourth innings of this bizarre, engrossing game of cricket. Thirty wickets had fallen for a total of 403 runs. The upshot was that Derbyshire needed 232 to win in a minimum of 242 overs, which rather summed up the absurdity of it all.
In the circumstances it did not feel fanciful to suggest that Derbyshire's reply might not even last the day. Fifty overs - 18 more than they mustered in their first innings - certainly seemed rather a lot when Matt Coles snared Ben Slater lbw with the fifth ball of the innings.
Yet, for all the bedlam, this was a pitch containing nothing untoward. The ball has swung consistently, and often late, but this is not a wicket with cracks opening up like the Grand Canyon. Belatedly - finally - Billy Godleman and Chesney Hughes proved as much.
The 163 they added restored a little sanity to the game. Both ran with intent; booming cries of "Push, push" as they sought to turn ones into twos were a feature of their stand. Solid without ever threatening the dourness of his 244-ball half-century in the Championship two years ago, Godleman was the perfect foil for Hughes' more arresting strokeplay.
Powerfully built and with a huge backlift, Hughes has not always been known for the judicious use of his considerable talent: after a glorious 270 against Yorkshire in May 2013, he had to wait two full years to record his next first-class century.
But here he was like a canny boxer absorbing his opponent's blows before counter-attacking whenever they lowered their guard. So it seemed, anyway, during an engrossing late evening duel with Matt Coles. Sensing that his spell represented Kent's last, best chance, and willed on by a boisterous crowd, Coles bowled with venom and increasingly short. Hughes ducked and weaved when he could, and offered his bat in defence when he had to.
Then he sensed his moment. After three ferocious deliveries, Coles erred just a little, allowing Hughes to swivel-pull awesomely for four. As Coles over-compensated, so Hughes was reunited with the cut shot he had wielded so effectively already, and flayed the next delivery through point for four. Coles' anguished squeals, including some distinctly un-Parliamentary language, spoke of Kent's disbelief over how they had squandered a position of overwhelming dominance only a few hours earlier.
As Hughes hammered a fulltoss from Adam Riley over midwicket for a huge six, taking him to within 18 of a hundred and his side to within 62 of victory by the close, it felt incongruous to reflect on the game ten minutes before lunch. After Ivan Thomas had needed just three overs to terminate Derbyshire's first innings on 86 all out, Kent had cruised to 63 for 1 - a lead of 182 - on another fine day, albeit one that possessed a chill that had been absent on Monday. Valiant new ball bursts from Mark Footitt and Tony Palladino had yielded only the scalp of Joe Denly.
So perhaps it was with a feeling of quiet desperation that Godleman handed Wayne White the ball. White's first first-class game of 2015 had not been going well: 1 for 56 from 10 expensive overs in the first innings followed by a rather excruciating 35-minute duck.
It took just his fourth ball, which castled Rob Key with extra pace, to suggest that the second innings would prove much kinder. Here White bowled with the pace, bounce and swing that, to Leicestershire's chagrin, had led him to move to Lancashire in 2013. It was not a switch that proved productive, so White returned to Derbyshire, where he had begun his career, on loan last year and then joined permanently in the off-season.
The vim and hostility with which White bowled here, moving the ball both ways, suggested he could be the latest bowler to be reinvigorated by Graeme Welch. Glorious was the inswinger to Ryan Davies, eluding his immaculate forward defensive and crashing into his middle stump instead. While Davies recorded a pair on his first-class debut at 18, White's jubilantly ran to short fine leg. He had further reason to celebrate when Sam Northeast, who had just crashed a six over point, was spectacularly caught by Tillakaratne Dilshan attempting a repeat. Somehow Kent had contrived to lose their last nine wickets for 49 runs, leaving White to toast a career best of 6 for 25.
How rueful Daniel Bell-Drummond, who had batted with assurance and panache for 45, must have felt about his hare-brained piece of running on the stroke of lunch. Derbyshire are now most unlikely to have to wait until lunch on the third day to wrap up victory. But such has been the harum-scarum feel to the game that White and company will still fear being called upon to bat again.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts