Worcestershire defeated Kent by five runs

Overseas players don't always receive a great press these days. 'Over-paid, over-hyped and over-all-too quickly' would sum up most of them.

In Zaheer Khan, however, Worcestershire have a gem. A fast bowler who remains fit, takes wickets and appears to enjoy his work is a rare commodity indeed, but Zaheer fits the bill on all accounts.

That Zaheer's bowling was a major factor yesterday in Worcestershire's second successive Pro-40 victory should be no surprise; he has bowled beautifully since arriving at New Road.

That his batting was almost equally critical is more of a surprise. He recorded the highest List A score of his 152-match career, helping Worcestershire set their visitors a testing total after a middle-order collapse.

Worcestershire would dearly love to have him back next year. At present, it is impossible to make firm plans as there is a good chance he will have forced his way back into the Indian international squad. His performances will also have alerted other counties to his effectiveness.

Zaheer's intervention was the difference between these two sides. Kent were cruising to victory with Darren Stevens (71 balls) and Martin Van Jaasveld (85 balls) together.

The pair added 97 in 16 overs, prospering against spin and seam alike and giving no indication of the middle-order jitters to come from their colleagues.

Earlier, Worcestershire looked to have squandered a superb start. Vikram Solanki and Lou Vincent appeared to have put their side on course for an imposing total only for the middle order to subside horribly.

Solanki and Vincent added 95 for the second wicket in only 13 overs, putting bat to ball in fine style.

Although Vincent has struggled for runs in Championship cricket, the New Zealander's one-day form is encouraging. This was his third successive List A half-century and the manner in which he timed the ball, on the up or on the ground, was highly impressive.

Solanki lost nothing by comparison, however. He launched Neil Dexter's first two deliveries for six and produced some typically pleasing strokes.

The introduction of Kent's spinner, James Tredwell, sparked a decline, however. Solanki was stumped by Geraint Jones - something of a collector's item in itself - before Vincent edged an attempted cut shot.

Steven Davies drove rather lamely to cover before Tredwell saw Graeme Hick advancing down the pitch and beat him with a quicker delivery.

In all Worcestershire lost seven for 65 in 17 overs, paying the price for fielding a team with a long tail. Ben Smith, absent with a back injury, was certainly missed while Kabir Ali was also noticeable by his absence.

It has been a wretched few weeks for Kabir. Chastened by his clubbing at the hands of the Sri Lankan batsmen -he conceded 149 from 16 overs in his last two one-day internationals - he has also suffered a side strain.

Now, apparently suffering from a lack of form and confidence, he finds himself dropped from the Worcestershire time for the first time in many, many matches. Only seven weeks ago, he was a member of England's one-day team.

An unlikely ninth-wicket stand of 42 in seven overs by Zaheer and Matt Mason proved the key, however. Zaheer (38 balls, four fours, two sixes), hitting straight and cleanly, belied his relative lack of pedigree with the bat and took full toll of loose bowling.

Though Zaheer accounted for Dexter early in the reply, it was the Indian's final spell that did the real damage. Van Jaarsveld perished to a fine catch as he attempted to flick over square leg before Rob Key and Matt Walker fell in similar style, attempting to thrash fine full-pitched deliveries for boundaries.

There was more than a hint of panic in Kent's later batting. Improbable shots and improbable attempts at runs cost them dear, although Worcesthershire held their nerve well in the final overs.

Nadeem Malik might not be everyone's first choice as a 'death' bowler but even he couldn't concede 21 from the last over. When Jones was run out attempting a third after a fine piece of work by Moore on the long-on boundary, the hosts were sure of the points.