Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mote Park, Maidstone

On our recent visit to the old country I treated my Khandallah correspondent to a trip to Mote Park in Maidstone. The park contains 450 acres of mature parkland, a 30 acre lake, a stately home and a rich history in which Elizabeth Woodville, Henry VIII, Ann Boleyn, Elizabeth I and William Pitt the Younger all feature.

All of this we ignored.
The sole interest of our visit was the north-west corner of the park, where one of the finest cricket grounds in Kent is to be found.

Maidstone Week, usually in the first week of July, sits in the memory as the best of summer. Sun baking a flat, fast pitch from a clear blue sky; the woods across the valley pulsing in a light breeze; Asif Iqbal shimmying down the pitch to send the ball rasping through the covers; the birdsong tempered only by the welcome purr of the ice cream van’s generator.
Of course, the memory tints the image. In 1980, for example, it began raining in the late afternoon on Sunday and there was not another ball bowled until five on Thursday.

The good news is that it is still a cricket ground, unlike the Crabble in Dover for one. It is home to the Mote CC, one of Kent’s most famous clubs, and staged two Kent Second XI Championship games last season. But there has been no county cricket there since 2005 when a dodgy pitch caused Kent to be docked eight Championship points.
Pitches can be put right. The expense of taking cricket to the outgrounds and the period-charm nature of the Mote’s facilities are why the county has not returned, and is not likely to.

So I was pleased to be able to introduce my correspondent the ground much as it was throughout the three decades that spans my watching cricket there.
Though located a walk away from the town centre (lunchtime food replenishment is possible—the Mote holds a three-egg rating*), the outlook from the ground is predominantly rural. From the bank on the southern side one looks across the valley to the scarp slope of the North Downs, on their way to Dover to form the white cliffs. So many shades of green.

The cricket field is located on the middle of three tiers. The top level is the home of Maidstone RFC and a car park. The grass slope down to boundary is the main spectator area. In this respect, the Mote is more like a New Zealand ground. Of course, in Kent we are not as outré as to come into actual contact with the grass. There must be seating. In the seventies, this was rusticity itself. Planks of four by two balanced precariously on upright logs. Most days were enlivened by a row of stout parties finding themselves on their backs, feet waving in the air.
The Northern End

For cricket week the marquees lined the boundary from the bank to the scoreboard at the Northern End. There’s a short expanse of concrete terracing, from which we would watch Sunday League games when the bank tended to get overfull.

The Pavilion
Square to the pitch is the mock Tudor pavilion, which I once saw Clive Lloyd clear with a six. Further along, the boundary bulges back into the field of play, making space for a square, terracotta-coloured building known as the Tabernacle. Originally the private pavilion of Viscount Bearsted, it was used as the club office on match days. Both buildings date from 1910.
The Tabernacle
I first went to the Mote in 1972, when I saw Alan Knott hit his second century of the match, against Surrey. I was last there in 2002, for a resounding defeat of Durham in the Sunday League.

From the end of school until a reluctant entry into the world of work I would be there throughout cricket week. After that, the Mote always drew me back to Kent for the weekend.
There was so much fine cricket, some of which was in my mind’s eye as I walked the boundary and rested on the bank in September:

·       The day in 1976 when a helicopter landed on the square with the Sunday League trophy, just as Colin Dredge was run out in Cardiff, meaning that Kent had won it.

·       Two wins in 1978, the last year Kent won the Championship, with 19 wickets for Derek Underwood.

·       Losing to Middlesex by one wicket in the rain in 1981.

·       A fluent double hundred by Graeme Fowler in 1984.

·       My reward for turning down tickets to Live Aid in 1985 to go to Mote Park instead: a run-a-ball century by Roger Harper.

·       Mark Ealham setting about Derbyshire in general and Dominic Cork in particular for a 44-ball century in 1995, the fastest ever in the Sunday League then.
I was surrounded by the ghosts of spectators long gone, on their backs, feet towards the sky.

*The My Life in Cricket Scorecards Scotch egg ratings rank cricket grounds according to ease with which food supplies can be replenished during the day.

Only Folkestone has ever held the prestigious five egg status, the only ground in my experience to have a supermarket close enough for the replenishment of Scotch eggs during a drinks interval without missing a ball. Challenging certainly, requiring speed, strategy, cunning and the ability to knock aside old people without feeling remorse, but it could, and has, been done.

Unfortunately, Folkestone was subsequently downgraded to four eggs after the supermarket was rebuilt with the entrance at the other end of the building. Why don’t these people stop and think?

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