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Canterbury, September 26 - 29, 2023, County Championship Division One
327 & 390/8d

Match drawn


Denly, Compton get to work in Crawley's absence

Kent's cushion above relegation zone cut to one point by Middlesex but Denly remains 105*

Joe Denly works through the leg side, LV= Insurance County Championship, Kent vs Lancashire, day 1, Canterbury, April 22, 2021

Joe Denly works through the leg side  •  Getty Images

Kent 345 for 4 (Denly 105*, Compton 95) lead Lancashire 327 (Bohannon 113, Hurst 76*, Balderson 54) by 18 runs
It sums up the state of the English schedule that Wednesday at Canterbury began in earnest on Tuesday afternoon in Bristol.
Zak Crawley, England's captain for the ODIs against Ireland, gave a debrief after the most forgettable of three-match series ended with a second washout. With the help of a good legal team, you could argue the most important information to glean was whether he would be coming into Kent's final Division One match against Lancashire from day two.
Preservation of top-flight status was high on the agenda, and the return of an international calibre opener, the only Kent batter to register more than one Championship hundred coming into this round, was only going to be a boost. Yet despite being the nominated player to sub into this fixture, along with Lancashire's spinning allrounder Tom Hartley, Crawley was "not certain" if he would be parachuting in.
That uncertainty remained as day two began, with Kent starting their first innings after dismissing Lancashire for 327. Full bowling points meant they led second-bottom Middlesex by four points with Crawley nowhere to be seen. Maybe he'd be around from day three? Spitfire fans have had much to rue all season, but positive vibes were a must ahead of their most important three days of the summer.
Fast forward to 2.39pm, and the fear had returned. Official news came that Crawley would not play any part in the match due to illness, meaning Kent would stick with the same XI. By then, their cushion above the relegation zone was cut to a single point after Ryan Higgins' 137 powered Middlesex beyond 350.
The situation, the broader game, the wider world - all worthy of lament at that juncture. At the other end of the table, Surrey's own stars for the understudy series had returned - Will Jacks immediately, with Jamie Smith due in for Ryan Patel from the third innings.
On social media and in the stands, Kent fans asked questions, and cursed their luck. And all the while, Ben Compton, the man Crawley would have replaced, scratched his guard, got behind the ball, walked away, came back, scratched his guard some more, then left the next one.
Mr Keep Calm And Grind It Out was doing just that on his way to a 95, inching his team to safety. By stumps, Kent were leading by 18 through Joe Denly's first century of the season, accrued off the back of Compton's graft, even if the man who fashioned the foundations with his bare hands could not reach three figures himself.
It leaves the hosts in with a shout of two more bonus points to extend the overnight three-point lead they hold over their relegation rivals. All thanks to one of their great modern survivalists.
In a world where the slow burners are quickly going out of fashion, there remains a lot to respect about Compton's methods. Yet even amid the defiance, impressive concentration and the odd soft-handed edge just short of the cordon, there were moments you wondered how the ghost at this feast would have played the various scenarios that emerged throughout the day.
Sure, Crawley would have scored quicker, particularly on a surface that started reliably enough for Tawana Muyeye to provide 46 of the opening stand's 64 from just 61 deliveries. Compton had 15 off 51 when Muyeye was superbly caught by Keaton Jennings, one-handed, diving to his right, off seamer George Balderson.
Crawley would probably have not let left-arm spinner Jack Morley settle into a comfortable groove that saw him stitch together an impressive spell for his brace of wickets. Turn and bounce did for Daniel Bell-Drummond, before Jack Leaning lost his off stump with a delivery from around the wicket that drew him forward before spinning sharply past the outside edge. That may well be Morley's last act if Hartley comes into the XI from day three.
In fact, Compton's approach to the turning ball was such that Tom Bailey decided to park his seam for some off spin when the left-hander was on strike. Others might have lost their heads at the disarming sight of a 6-foot-4 quick twirling away with shades on, Compton never lost sight of the bigger picture.
That he was unable to cash in fully, pulling Jack Blatherwick around the corner to fine leg at the start of the 70th over was a shame, though not the first time he has been undone by the short ball this summer. And it would have stung that the umpires called the players off for bad light two deliveries later.
But the ball before the stoppage, Denly's wearing of a Blatherwick bouncer ran away beyond the wicketkeeper to take Kent to their first batting point. And upon the return after a 25-minute delay, two beamers from Blatherwick resulted in him being pulled out of the attack, unable to bowl for the rest of the innings. Luke Wells delivered the final ball of the over.
Sandwiched in between both above-the-waist no balls was Denly's pull through square leg to take him to fifty from 86 deliveries. It was his second successive half-century after 73 against Somerset last week.
A bowler down, with the seamers worn down, not unrelated to Comtpon's belligerence, Lancashire lost the thread of the match, a point backed up by the 38 extras they'd eventually send down by stumps.
Denly cashed in, smashing over the midwicket fence then driving powerfully through covers for four in successive balls as Wells continued from the Nackington Road End. The 50 stand duly arrived for the fifth wicket, with Harry Finch providing just 10 before the 300 was brought up to huge applause from around the ground.
Those were bettered when Denly drove aerially through the off side for the three that took him to a 28th century for his home county, with his former club Middlesex indirectly on the receiving end. The extra decibels on the ovation solely to the man, even with the improvement of the state of play.
This was the 37-year-old's first hundred in 18 innings, a sequence that includes five ducks and five single-figure scores. His 2023 red ball average coming into this final round was 13.08, but the fluency here - the second fifty took just 51 deliveries - was a reminder of the talent that remains within.
There was time to tick off the century stand (Finch with 24) and get ahead before bad light brought a permanent end to the day at 5:52pm. The scope for Thursday will be quick runs before 110 overs and then any runs as the side quests of bonus points move aside and the match result comes into view. At this juncture, Kent are just about favourites.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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County Championship Division One