Billings shows fighting spirit to help salvage draw
Matt Walker was full of praise after Sam Billings returned from the migraine which had laid him low for two days to defy Durham in their Specsavers County Championship draw at Chester-le-Street. Set a near-impossible target of 371 in 56 overs to claim an unlikely victory, there were 28 overs left when Billings went in on the final afternoon with his side reeling on 74-5. But while four more wickets fell, he remained unbeaten on 70 as Kent escaped against Durham to emerge with a draw for the second time this season. However, Kent’s failure to win in a week where rivals Worcestershire inflicted a first defeat on leaders Notts did dent their hopes of a return to the top flight. There were six overs left when Graham Onions pinned Adam Milne leg before to break the record of 518 first-class wickets for Durham. That brought in Imran Qayyum but he was well protected by Billings and faced only two balls before edging the first ball of the penultimate over to Paul Collingwood at first slip off James Weighell. Last-man Mitch Claydon, on his 100th first class appearance, who defied his former team-mates when Kent also hung on with nine wickets at Canterbury, survived the over and Billings then kept out Onions. Kent closed on 184-9, leaving Durham to rue their belated declaration in a match which lost four sessions to the weather. Kent coach Walker admitted: “We were surprised they batted on after lunch (on the final day). “We thought 300 was enough on a pitch which had enough in it for a quality bowling attack. I thought they would have wanted 65 overs but it nearly worked for them. “In terms of the situation and the way he has been feeling for the previous two days, that’s as well as I’ve seen Sam Billings play in four-day cricket. “He didn’t feel right after day one and still wasn’t 100% on the last day but he showed great character and skill. To see us home was an excellent effort.” Skipper Sam Northeast followed his 110 in Kent’s first innings total of 206 by making 67 second time around. Kent had lost openers Sean Dickson and Daniel BellDrummond without a run on the board but Northeast progressed to a 69-ball halfcentury by the time Billings joined him. After a rain-hit start to the match, Kent reduced the hosts to 77-7 in their first innings only for James Weighell (55) and Mark Wood (72 not out) to put on 106 for the eighth wicket to guide their side to 217 all-out. Milne took 4-68 with Claydon 5-45 against his previous club. Northeast’s superb ton was the lone resistance as Kent toiled in reply, the 26 mustered by Bell-Drummond and Zak Crawley was the second largest contribution, with Billings departing for a duck, bowled by Onions batting at nine after being stricken by the migraine. It also prevented him taking the field, with Bell-Drummond and Denly taking the gloves as Kent allowed a good start, reducing Durham to 39-2, to slip. A big stand of 180 between former Kent man Tom Latham and Graham Clark (86) took the game out of Kent’s reach. Latham completed his second century in three games for Durham on the final morning after being dropped by Denly off the luckless Milne on 65. Kent were due to start a championship game at Gloucestershire yesterday (Tuesday, 10.30am).