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April 24, 2008
Kent 65 for 6 trail Sussex 303 (Prior 105, Arafat 4-88) by 238 runs
Sussex hadn't quite hit their stride in the early stages of their title defence, but that changed on the second day at Hove as they made full use of the play available on another rain-shortened day to leave Kent reeling on 65 for 6. Matt Prior's 105, his 16th first-class century, pushed Sussex towards a handy first-innings total before the bowlers set about a Kent batting line-up lacking confidence.
Kent's top order subsided against Nottinghamshire last week, sinking to 13 for 4 in the first innings before eventually edging to 162, and a similar state appeared this time around. Joe Denly, his feet not moving early on, was caught on the crease by Robin Martin-Jenkins. Next ball was virtually the same as Martin van Jaarsveld repeated the first-ball duck he collected against Nottinghamshire.
Matthew Walker fell to a stunning catch at gully by Carl Hopkinson when a full-blooded cut shot was plucked, two-handed, to his left leaving Kent on 20 for 3. James Tredwell, opening in place of the ill Robert Key, and Darren Stevens calmed the innings for a time, Stevens showing the range of strokes that has made his average of 32 such a frustration. He had more problems against Mushtaq Ahmed and gifted his wicket in loose fashion with a weak drive to gully off Luke Wright. Hopkinson's second catch of the innings was much simpler than his first.
Neil Dexter was Key's replacement for this match but didn't offer much confidence at No. 6 as he laboured for 24 balls. He, too, struggled against Mushtaq and it was little surprise when he was trapped lbw 15 minutes before the close. Mushtaq added Robbie Joseph, the nightwatchman, with another strong appeal even though Joseph was well forward in his defensive shot. The top order could learn from Tredwell's resilience and there is plenty for him and the host of allrounders to do for Kent to avoid the follow-on let alone compete on first innings.
"The success of this team has been built on fighting back from tough situations," the Sussex coach Mark Robinson said. "I thought we fought hard yesterday, it was a hard-working type of wicket where batsman are never quite settled. Today the bowlers were excellent, Robin has taken on the new ball role like a true professional while Ragheb Aga and Chris Liddle are supporting him well."
Kent's collapse also adds value to Prior's innings. When he came in yesterday afternoon the innings was tottering on 103 for 4 but he played a compact and controlled innings, his first century since the unbeaten 126 he made on Test debut against West Indies last May. "It wasn't a pretty hundred, but a real tough batsman's innings," Robinson said. "He battled hard and really deserved it."
Starting the day on 57 he drove and cut strongly as Kent's bowlers failed to maintain a consistent line and length. Prior has said that he'd consider switching to playing as a specialist batsman if he thought it would be a route back to England for him and the correctness of his strokeplay made a compelling case. However, it's unlikely Sussex will take the gloves off him - despite having the talented Andy Hodd in the wings - so Prior will have to continue combining both roles for the foreseeable future.
Aga, the Kenyan medium-pacer who has played one-day internationals, provided valuable support for Prior in an eighth wicket stand of 76. He was eventually undone by one which climbed a touch outside off stump from Ryan McLaren. Prior then fell pushing at a neat away swinger from Azhar Mahmood, leaving Mushtaq to carry Sussex over the 300-mark.
Mushtaq could have been run out three times in his short innings and shared a few words with his former Pakistan team-mate Mahmood in the process. McLaren ended the innings when he bowled Liddle, but 303 represented a decent recovery from Sussex. When the Kent top order was blown away, it began taking on even greater significance.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?