First, the good news. Scotch eggs—the absence of which triggered the pork pie avalanche of 2013—were abundant on the shelves of the on-ground Sainsbury’s, and no doubt in anticipation of the presence of My Life in Cricket Scorecards, had been placed close to the ground to minimise the risk of slither among the processed meats.
There was a pleasing familiarity about the St Lawrence. For one thing, only a year had elapsed since my last visit. For another, Sky Sport New Zealand has shown almost all the English county cricket broadcast by BSkyB in the UK this season, including several games from Canterbury. Last year I could name fewer than half of the Kent XI as it first took the field; this year my recognition rate was 100%, thanks to technology’s ability to shrink the world.
Gloucestershire captain Alex Gidman won the toss, chose to bat, and would not have expected to be 29 for five after an hour’s play, routed by Darren Stevens and Mitch Claydon, sharing the new ball with a combined run up of 27 paces. Fifteen of these are Stevens’, and they get shorter as he tires passing the umpire. “Mince up” might be convey the experience more accurately. I can’t think of a regular opening pair with such an economy of sole use since John Shepherd and Norman Graham. Like Graham, Claydon uses his height to get lift and has had a good year, finishing with more than 50 wickets. He follows Graham’s admirable approach to the game in other ways, which we will come to.
Another novelty of this partnership is that Stevens stands at first slip for his partner. Opening bowlers in the slips are novelty enough, though there have been a few good ones, most obviously Ian Botham. Mike Hendrick also springs to mind. But I cannot recall any others at first slip. It was here that Stevens got the carnage under way, taking a straightforward catch to remove Dent in the third over.
A residue of damp in the autumn air might have been a factor; the ball appeared to stop a bit and it certainly moved around, as the new ball should. Also, it was one of those days when edges carried and fielders held them. The ball that Gloucestershire’s promising young keeper Roderick edged to second slip reared up too, but there was nothing here to induce any doubt that it is a thoroughly good idea to extend the English county season to the end of September.
Hamish Marshall came in at No 5. I wrote about Hamish often when I was CricInfo’s man in the Northern Districts so it was a pleasure to watch him again, not least because there was no risk of the unwary scribe mistaking him for his identical twin James (or vice versa). The joy was short-lived; Marshall was caught by Northeast at third slip of the back of the bat as tried to steer Stevens through the onside.
Gloucestershire’s pre-lunch recovery was merely relative; three more wickets fell by the interval. Sam Northeast, captain in Rob Key’s absence, kept the opening bowlers going for 22 overs. When Claydon finally got a rest, Tom Smith flailed away in relief at Calum Haggett’s first ball, to be well caught by Northeast in the gully. There was no rest for Stevens, who sauntered in from the Nackington Road End until lunch.
There’s always something new at the cricket. Today it was the sponsorship of the match by a firm of funeral directors, who positioned their limo (filled with balloons, bizarrely enough) on the bank on the hospital side. Given the demographic of the average County Championship crowd, the presence of a funeral car risked instigating unease, especially at the last game of the season when the minds of older spectators turn to whether they will be back next year. As a metaphor for the Gloucestershire innings thus far, it was compelling.
The interval found me carrying out a humanitarian act at the second-hand bookstall. Among the Wisdens sat a pristine 1966 edition. That sounds just what a collector wants, but consider. It was as-new because it had been neglected, for nigh half a century ignored on a shelf or in the back of a cupboard, unable to give out the good news about the second XI averages and Other Matches at Lord’s. Now it is free to shout all this out, sitting on the shelves at My Life in Cricket Scorecards Towers, alongside 52 yellow-jacketed friends.
The Gloucestershire batting was also in better spirits after lunch. The ninth-wicket partnership of Craig Miles and David Payne put on 90 in 24 overs, just on the polite side of tail-end slogging. Some felt that Northeast persisted with the quicker bowlers for too long as the ball became middle-aged.
When Adam Riley was brought on he had Miles caught at long on for 48 and was then hit for six by Payne, coming down the pitch to reach 50. After more merriment from last man Liam Norwell, Gloucestershire were all out for 179, not as many as Gidman envisaged when he won the toss, but a total he would happily have settled for at lunchtime.
James Tredwell did not get a bowl. He has had an odd season, loaned to Sussex for first-class games, but a regular for England in the short forms. Kent rightly give Championship precedence to Adam Riley, already spoken of as a test player of the middle future, but would like to hold on to Tredwell for the limited-overs stuff. The fact that both are offies does not help, especially at Canterbury where the slope makes things difficult from the Pavilion End.
Kent’s top order did only marginally better than Gloucestershire’s, subsiding to 47 for four before Billings and the inevitable Stevens rallied towards the end of the day.
During the final session I watched under lights for the first time at St Lawrence, but only briefly. The lights were switched on at tea as the cloud thickened. They kept the players on for longer than would have been the case, but at the point when the artificial light became stronger than the natural light (which, one might have thought, was their purpose) the regulations demanded that the umpires called a halt. It is probably the case that the ball becomes a shade more difficult to see at this point, just as it was a shade more difficult to play first thing, but this should be regarded as one of the variables that makes the first-class game interesting.
It confounded my Blean correspondent who shelled out the full admission price for very little cricket.