Monday, August 22, 2016

Kent v Gloucestershire, 50 overs, St Lawrence, 31 July 2016

For the first time in 19 years I find myself at Canterbury Week, at least for the first day, a one-day contest between Kent and Gloucestershire. Back then, there was something of the Edwardian stately home about it, with marquees shimmering around a third of the boundary, temporary homes for all sorts of organisations ancient and antiquated: the Buffs Regiment; the Band of Brothers; the Old Stagers; the Association of Men of Kent and Kentish Men. Now most of the house has been sold to ward off impoverishment and the family is reduced to living in a few rooms in one wing. Just five marquees remain, though readers will be relieved to learn that the High Sheriff of Kent was present, perhaps to protect us from the cowboys on the building site that occupies the Old Dover Road side of the ground. A giant crane looms over the playing field as the old lime tree once did from much the same place, an apt symbol of how things have changed. The club has done a good job in retaining the character of the playing arena thus far during the redevelopment. I hope that I can make the same report on my next visit once the building is complete.

The match was the penultimate in the group stage for both teams. A win would come close to ensuring a quarter-final place for Kent. Gloucestershire, who won the competition last year, have had a nightmare and are already out, which is disappointing (you will remember that My Life in Cricket Scorecards lived in Bristol for 19 years and spent many a freezing day on the Hammond Room roof, so retains secondary affection for Gloucestershire).

Kent won the toss and put Gloucestershire in. What followed was consistent with the timeless, retro feel of the day: the visitors proceeded at a leisurely four an over to be all out for 200 in the fiftieth over, an analogue score in the digital age.

The pitch was slow, and from the Pavilion End the odd ball stopped (as they say). Of the 13 wickets that fell, only four were to catches, and three of those were caught-and-bowled, a sure sign that timing is tricky. In these conditions Darren Stevens—the human tourniquet—was predictably abstemious, conceding only 28 from his ten overs. Will Gidman, bowling at a similar pace to Stevens, had the best figures, three for 28 in eight overs. Gidman is on loan from Nottinghamshire, but it would be good if he could be persuaded to stay; he’s more than useful and at 40 Stevens has no more than seven or eight seasons left in him.

Twenty-two-year-old bowler Charlie Hartley bowls a notch or two quicker. He claimed two wickets, both front-foot lbws. With Matt Coles getting Cockbain in the same fashion, Nos 3 to 5 in the Gloucestershire order were sent on their way by Rob Bailey. None of these decisions looked clear cut, which is not to say that they were wrong. There had been a celebration of the 80th birthday of Ray “Trigger” Julian a couple of days before and the thought occurred that umpires around the country were firing ‘em out in celebration.  

Matt Coles took the first two wickets. Like Jesse Ryder, in any other era Coles would have been regarded as a character. In our age of scientific Calvinism he is a problem, just back from suspension after a late night (or nights). He has talent and unpredictability. Is it possible to inject conformability into the mix without diluting it?

The best Gloucestershire batsman was Hamish Marshall, who is finishing at the County Ground this year after 11 seasons. It was a pleasure to see Marshall in prime form. My period as CricInfo’s man in Northern Districts coincided with Hamish and his (absolutely) identical twin James establishing themselves as first-class cricketers, to the confusion of scorers, umpires and journalists everywhere. It was not quite a valedictory as I far as I am concerned, however; it is rumoured that Marshall will play for Wellington in the coming New Zealand season.

He and Michael Klinger put on 42 for the third wicket, the biggest partnership of the innings. At 71 for two in the 18th over, things were pretty even, but by the 37th over it was 138 for eight. Tom Smith, David Payne and Matt Taylor did well to get as far as 200, but it was surprising that Kent did not try to finish the innings off. For the last ten overs only the minimum four fielders were retained inside the circle. The tailenders used the gaps in the field intelligently to take the score to the foothills of respectability. Today the difference between 150 and 200 all out was not significant, but on a pitch that was not straightforward it might have been on another day. At the risk of becoming a one-tune band, I will ask my usual question: what would McCullum do?

Kent’s top order are in rich form at the moment. Daniel Bell-Drummond and Joe Denly were largely untroubled, though the odd ball from the Pavilion End was still struggling to make it  all the way to the batsman. Once past 50, the shots came more freely, with Denly in particular happy to come down the pitch. The partnership was at 92 when Bell-Drummond played around a straight one to be bowled by Howell. This equalled the record for Kent’s first wicket in one-day cricket against Gloucestershire, matching Luckhurst and Johnson in the Gillette Cup in 1972 (I didn’t see that one).
Sam Northeast picks up where he left off each time he comes up to bat at the moment. Like Bell-Drummond, it was a surprise when he was out, to a sharp return catch to Payne. There are vacancies for batsmen in the test team. On form, Bell-Drummond and Northeast have as good a bid as anyone. Will their being being second division players be an insurmountable objection?

Sam Billings, on top of the world a week before for England A, left his timing at home today. What had been brilliantly audacious reverse sweeps were now mere errors of judgement.

Joe Denly was there throughout for 82. He is also playing very well, though his time as an international player has probably passed. Darren Stevens (who else?) saw him through to the end and finished the game with a six onto the bank on the south side of the ground.

A mundane game to finish my visit to the old country, but days in the sun at Canterbury are precious and never disagreeable.

Kent came second in the group, and played Yorkshire in the quarter-final, a game that I was able to watch on TV back in New Zealand. Kent chased 256 on a pitch much like that the Gloucestershire game was played on. Against Yorkshire’s international attack they came just 11 runs short (and the lbw that ended the innings not even Trigger Julian would have given). It supported the view I formed during my short visit that the old county is in better shape on the field than it has been for a while.

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