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Nottinghamshire 265 (Mullaney 86, Nijjar 4-67) and 177 for 5 (Clarke 61*, Evison 3-22) trail Kent 446 by 4 runs
Nottinghamshire ended day three on 177 for 5 in their second innings, a deficit of just four, after Clarke and James batted through the entire evening session to finish unbeaten on 61 and 38, respectively, at stumps.
Aron Nijjar had earlier claimed career-best figures of four for 67 as the visitors were bowled out for 265 in their first innings. Michael Hogan and Joey Evison then claimed two wickets apiece after Kent asked Notts to bat again, but after reducing the visitors to 78 for five, they were frustrated during a wicketless evening session.
The visitors began day three on 219 for 8, a deficit of 227, but with the weather forecast looking ominous and with electrical storms predicted to arrive by mid-afternoon, Brett Hutton and Dane Paterson actually hung around for 40 potentially crucial minutes against Nijjar and Chahal, adding just 10 to the overnight score.
Yet having taken 14 overs out of the game, Paterson started to hit out and he skied Nijjar to Jack Leaning, who took his fifth catch of the innings. That last wicket duo managed to bat out a further 10 overs. Asitha Fernando didn't come with a huge reputation as a batter but he made an entertaining 14 not out that included a six off Nijjar where he dropped to one knee and plastered him over cow corner.
With the follow on target dwindling, Nathan Gilchrist was handed the new ball midway through the 97th over and had Hutton caught behind for 31 with the second ball of the 99th.
By now, the skies were looking leaden and Kent immediately told the umpires the wanted Notts to bat again. After six overs of resistance, Hogan produced an inswinger that splayed Haseed Hameed's middle and leg stumps, bowling him for seven, but although Notts were 20 for one at lunch, after it Steven Mullaney and Ben Slater looked largely unthreatened until rain forced the teams from the field at 1:58pm.
Despite a 38-minute delay, Kent were so far ahead of the over rate only an over was lost and Joey Evison duly transformed the mood in the ground with two wickets in three balls.
He broke the partnership when he tempted Mullaney into a pull caught on the backward square leg boundary by the sub, Arafat Bhuiyan. Slater then inexplicably drove Evison straight to Hogan at mid-off.
It was then Hogan's turn to take two wickets in an over. He bowled Matt Montgomery for six and three balls later had Tom Moores caught at first slip thanks to a stunning one-handed grab by Zak Crawley.
The visitors had slumped from 63 for 1 to 87 for 5 at tea, but Clarke and James looked far more at ease after the resumption, offering few chances and steadily eroding Kent's lead. Clarke hit a Nijjar full toss for four to pass 50 in the final scheduled over, although to the confusion of almost everyone in the ground, play continued.
The players, at least, seemed to know but no one bothered to tell the scorers, fans, press or PA announcer, until the umpires belatedly let it be known play was going to continue till 6pm, and a few desultory overs followed.
Kent survive late scare after Nottinghamshire turn the tables at Canterbury
Having bossed the first three days, the hosts had to take the draw and remain in the relegation zone
Joe Clarke and Lyndon James hold up Kent's survival push
Pair rebuild with 99-run stand to bring Nottinghamshire within four of parity in follow-on innings
Aron Nijjar, Yuzvendra Chahal share six to give Kent upper hand
Nottinghamshire slide in face of twin spin despite century stand between Mullaney and Clarke