Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kent v Loughborough University, St Lawrence Ground, Canterbury, 10, 11 and 12 April 2010

I’m just back from a quick visit to the UK which, surprisingly for early-to-mid-April, offered a first opportunity for eight years to watch cricket at Canterbury, even if only for a (slightly) glorified practice match.

I was apprehensive as I drove onto the St Lawrence Ground. It was like meeting an old girlfriend, many years later. Would the years have been kind to her? Had she forgiven me for leaving? Would it be awkward? Obviously, the concomitant dangers of such an encounter were absent. A cricket ground could not remark on how much weight I had put on, or ask if that wasn’t the same sweater that I used to wear in 1984.

There was no need for concern. The ground was comfortingly familiar, though the lime tree that had stood on the boundary’s edge for as long as the ground has existed is gone, its absence less obvious than could have been imagined when it was there. A replacement is in place, no more than ten feet high yet.

Neither was St Lawrence in quite the rundown state that some reports had led me to expect. The club is in dire financial straits, made worse by a disastrous foray into pop concert promotion. James Morrison broke even, but the Sugababes went down as well as a county championship game at a Metallica concert. The club chairman, apparently with a straight face, reproved members for not supporting the event, which conjured a  image of an audience consisting of stonyfaced people in jackets and club ties, eating sandwiches from Tupperware boxes during Get Sexy*.

The cricket was pleasing, but untaxing. In other circumstances I would be exercised about the granting of first-class status to a match against a university side but it was so nice watching cricket at Canterbury that I didn’t care. Remarkably for the time of year it was a nice day, as long as you stayed in the sun.

Kent won the toss and batted. I was hoping for big scores from Joe Denly and Sam Northeast, neither of whom I had seen before, but Denly went in the first over, and Northeast managed only a painstaking ten. It was Rob Key and Geraint Jones who scored the runs in the first half of the day, both completing centuries by early afternoon. Jones (to whom I was well-disposed from the start, having enjoyed an excellent bacon roll before play in the bar he runs in the indoor school; the pigs are his own, I understand) looked particularly good from the first ball he received, which he cover drove for four.

Key reached 140 before retiring, without pretending to be injured or ill, so being recorded “retired out” on the scorecard, the first time my Blean correspondent or myself had seen such a thing. It brought the first-class status of the proceedings into further disrepute, of course. This is not to say that the students did not look and act like a first-class side in many respects; there was much clapping of hands and mutual encouragement (Rose being particularly vocal from fine leg), and they could no doubt have talked about “areas” and “zones” all day, given the opportunity. It was only in that brief but crucial period that starts with the ball leaving the bowler’s hand and ends with it reaching the batsman that they looked several days’ walk away from living up to their description as a “centre of cricketing excellence”. But they did have a Tavaré, William, a nephew of the great CJ.

One thing was odd. Loughborough’s slow left-armer, Welsh, came on at the Nackington Road End, from where such bowlers rarely bowl in my experience, because of the significant slope from the hospital to the Old Dover Road sides of the ground. I doubt that I saw Derek Underwood bowl half a dozen overs from that end in twenty years. I thought that this was no more than youthful inexperience (though Graham Dilley, the Loughborough coach, should know better). However, on my brief visit to the ground on the second day, James Tredwell was bowling his off spin from the Pavilion End. A short boundary on the legside (I have never seen cricket on a pitch so far towards the southern side of the ground) made this all the more mysterious.

There was a brief glimpse of Martin van Jaarsveld later in the afternoon, enough to understand why he has scored so heavily in recent years. He has an efficient technique, and hits the bad ball where it deserves to go. He reached his century towards the end of the day, but by that time my Blean correspondent and myself had retired to the Pheonix (happily reopened after a period of closure) where we put bad records on the juke box, just as we did when we were young.

I paid a brief visit on the second day, but the sun had gone in, the nor’easter had got up and it was most unpleasant. Some of the Kent players were wearing beanies to keep warm and went about their task with all the enthusiasm of a meeting of the Kent branch of the Geoffrey Boycott Appreciation Society. Meanwhile, Loughborough were grinding away at about two an over. After a trudge around the ground I left, to return who knows when.

*I had to look that up on Wikipedia, obviously.

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