I am back in the old country for the end of the season, a little earlier than planned following the peaceful death of my father, who saw Bradman play before the Second World War. In the circumstances I was not able to make it to the first three days of this Championship game, which were severely disrupted by the rain, though not enough to keep Kent away from the precipice of defeat, 65 short of an innings defeat with four down.
A Saturday drive around rural east Kent—which looked quite enchanting, so green—inevitably led us to the St Lawrence to give my Waikato Correspondent her first sight of the great ground where I spent so many happy salad days. There had been a lot of rain, so I expected the game to have been called off, or if there had been play, for Kent to have capitulated. The ground was almost deserted as we drove in, but the umpires were inspecting and play would begin at 3.30.
There was plenty on it; Essex needed to win to stay in the promotion race. My Life in Cricket Scorecards was well represented; my Blean correspondent arrived as play began, thus allowing my Waikato correspondent a taste of the badinage that has been emptying the seats around us since the early seventies.
We were in the Underwood and Knott Stand; new name, familiar location. I have watched more cricket from this place than any other; not for some years now, but formative experiences permeate your DNA. So when Reece Topley hit Sam Northeast’s pads I gave it out ahead of the umpire. I got all subsequent decisions right too. The angle of viewing—over widish long on—precludes informed judgement based on the visual evidence available, so it must be the accumulated knowledge derived from hundreds of hours of sitting here and seeing what is out and what is not. Still got it.
Incidentally, Reece Topley is the nephew of Peter Topley, one of Kent’s least distinguished players of the past half century.
Pig farmer Geraint Jones hit three boundaries before going the same way as Northeast, so it was up to Darren Stevens to save Kent’s bacon. The following hour explained why Stevens is so popular with the Kent faithful. He attacked whenever there was the slightest opportunity, which was important as it put Kent ahead with little time available for Essex to bat again. His half century took 67 deliveries. When Stevens holed out, caught by former Wellington player Owais Shah, the job was done.
The bowler was none other than Monty Panesar, the most unlikely pantomime villain English cricket history, Julie Andrews cast as Cruella de Vil. My Waikato correspondent identified Panesar having last seen him in the Dunedin Test in March. I had not been aware that he was on loan to Essex.
So a satisfying glimpse of Championship cricket at St Lawrence, the first I have had since leaving for New Zealand in 1997. I have seen one-day and university matches here, and a Championship game at the Mote in Maidstone since, but nothing in my favourite competition. It was good to see a real contest and to find that Kent cricket is still a vertebrate creature.