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Kent fighting for Championship survival
Kent fighting for Championship survival

Kent’s future in Division One of LV= Insurance County Championship hung in the balance on Thursday night, after Lancashire reached 126 without loss in their second innings, a deficit of 41.

Joe Denly’s 135 had helped Kent to 494, a first-innings lead of 167, but any hopes of a quick three-day victory faded when Luke Wells and Keaton Jennings both made half-centuries in an unbroken opening partnership, reaching 69 ad 52 not out respectively before bad light halted play at the Spitfire Ground.

Although Kent hauled in seven bonus points, they need to at least match Middlesex’s result against Nottinghamshire or they will be relegated and with that game also looking too close to call, a gut-wrenching final day is in the offing.

Kent had begun day three in a significantly happier place than they’d been 24 hours earlier, on 345 for four on day two in reply to Lancashire’s first innings score of 327 and with Denly unbeaten on 105.

The first cheer of the morning came when Tom Bailey bowled a no ball, taking Kent to 350 and securing the sixth bonus point, which meant that as long as Kent did no worse than Middlesex they’d stay in Division One.

The partnership between Denly and Harry Finch had reached exactly 150 when the latter was bowled for 44 by George Balderson.

Lancashire’s attack was already weakened by the absence of Jack Blatherwick, who’d bowled two beamers in an over on day two and their discipline continued to waver.

Tom Hartley, in for Will Williams, bowled the third beamer of the innings, a head-high slow delivery that Denly swatted for six to take Kent past 400. In the next over, the 108th, Balderson bowled a no ball, bringing up a half-century of extras.

Denly finally went when he was lbw to Balderson and Hartley bowled Joey Evison for 12, exposing the tail.

Balderson sent Nathan Gilchrist’s middle-stump cartwheeling for a ten-ball duck, but Aron Nijjar and Matt Quinn took Kent to 447 for eight at lunch.

Quinn was on 22 when he was caught off a Bailey no ball, but he was caught behind two deliveries later without adding to his score.

Nijjar, however, hit the next ball for six and had made 42 before he holed out to Bailey and was caught by Blatherwick, ending the innings.

At that point the most optimistic scenario was a victory inside three days, but Lancashire’s openers Wells and Jennings had raced to 55 without loss when an early tea was taken due to a brief shower and by then the mood around the Spitfire Ground was beginning to darken again.

Kent supporters have already seen this film too many times this season: hefty first innings leads were squandered against Surrey and Notts and the openers eroded the deficit offering barely a chance.

When Yuzvendra Chahal, did find Jennings’ edge he was dropped by Leaning when he was on 42 and bad light stopped play with 11 overs remaining, at precisely the moment the news came through that Middlesex had bowled out Nottinghamshire for a first innings deficit of 18. Fans who suffer from high blood pressure would be well advised to steer clear of the St. Lawrence tomorrow.

Lancashire’s Luke Wells said: “We showed great resilience in that first session. We only had two seamers in the game having subbed out Will and due to the unfortunate situation with Jack Blatherwick (taken out of the attack for bowling two beamers).

“Bailey and Balderstone bowled two fantastic spells and got wickets and the spinners did a good job. It could have potentially got ugly at one point so I think the fact we got those wickets and restricted them to a reasonable lead and not an insurmountable one was a credit to our character.

“Luckily we managed to get a good partnership together, me and Keaton. A lot of teams would have folded in that situation with the ball and with the bat. We were able to keep calm heads and do what was required. I always enjoy batting with Keaton.

“It might be interesting if Middlesex have a really good day tomorrow, you never know what could happen. I think they (Kent) probably didn’t have quite the energy that they had in the first innings so we were able to nullify the new ball and score at a nice rate. Hopefully we can continue to do that tomorrow.

“I was never worried about relegation at any point to be honest. Even if it was mathematically possible at some point I never considered that to be a possibility for the squad and team we are. I have hardly played any dead games for Lancashire. We’ve always been pushing for the title or second and third place. Unfortunately we can’t do that this year which is quite tough mentally to be honest.”

Kent’s Nathan Gilchrist said: “I think everyone’s pretty positive. I think we’ve played some really good cricket over the last three days. We’ve shown what we can do and what maybe has been missing for most of the season and there’s been some really good performances from a few of the boys over the last few days.

“We’re looking forward to tomorrow and obviously we’re not sure what the result is going to be but we’ll push forward for a win as much as we can.

“I don’t think many of the boys have been looking too much at the other scores. We said at the beginning of the game that we just want to do what we can do and control what we can control. With the bonus points that we’ve got in this game, I’m not sure what the maths is but I think everyone is pretty optimistic that if we get a draw we should be ok.

“I think we bowled pretty well. It’s a tough wicket to bowl on now, it’s pretty flat and there’s not a huge amount in there for the seamers so it’s just putting the ball in the right area for as long as we can. For the spinners here was a bit more in there, especially with the rough but we bowled pretty well as a unit and kept the scoring low for most of the innings so hopefully we can continue that tomorrow.”