Kent go into their Championship match with Northamptonshire at Beckenham in rather less fine fettle than when I left them on Day One of the home game with Durham. If not quite a “must win” match, it is most certainly a “must not lose” game.
The intervening few weeks have somewhat punctured our early season excitement and momentum, but that is professional sport for you. It can ebb and flow and how you bounce back from the disappointments can define a successful team.
On my train back from Glasgow on the Sunday, having watched England and Scotland share four goals in a monumentally hectic finale at Hampden Park in the World Cup, I was glued to my phone awaiting updates from one of the more technologically savvy Nackington Road Grumblers.
Collingwood’s 120 had given Durham the edge and despite Northeast’s fine 109*, Kent found themselves having to bat out on the final day to save the game. Something that might sound bananas to any non-cricket fan, but sounded like a classic for the regular connoisseurs of the four-day game.
Each vibrating bleep from my phone prefaced another Kent wicket, I tried to admire the scenery, the Cumbrian Lake District, the Lancashire hills, the Cheshire plains but as I headed South the messages grew more despondent. When Stevens went for a duck and we were 183 for 5 I was pretty glum. 193-6 and I was resigned to defeat, but then something rather splendid happened. The tail wagged, it dug in, showed genuine spirit and gritty determination, the overs continued to tick by and my hopes of a draw began to grow once more.
Then the news I dreaded, Northeast gone for 72 and just two wickets in hand to survive nigh on 18 overs. I slumped in my seat and Milton Keynes came and went… no buzz, no text of doom, then the electronic countdown started, Coles and Shah batting sensibly, 10 overs left, nine… then drat!
Coles gone, eight overs left… so near and yet so far… Claydon joined Shah and denied Durham ball by ball, seven left, six left, my fellow passengers must have wondered why I was looking so intently at my phone.
The purdah ended just before we pulled into Euston, a famous draw and a display of dogged defiance had me practically skipping down the platform giddy with the fact we had snatched a draw from the jaws of certain defeat.
I was feeling slightly less perky by the end of the final day of the Worcestershire game. Another below par first innings score had Kent on the back foot in a crucial promotion clash.
The hosts then dug out a handy 76 run first innings lead thanks to Clarke (142). Day 3 coincided with Day 1 of the England Lions vs South Africa A at Canterbury. Most of the sparse crowd were more intent on following the Kent score than caring what England’s second string might do.
Many of the regulars at the Nackington Road end were heartened as Kent recovered from 120-3 and then 205-6 to 354-7 and eventually a mammoth 474 all out setting the Shire 399 to win.
Denly was the hero with a magnificent 227. Good luck to ‘em if they get them was the attitude at the start of Day 4, so hats off to the chaps of Worcester for chasing down 401 with four wickets and 19 overs to spare.
Shah took 5-132 but the damage was done, we slipped to third and we watched the England Lions smoothly dismantle South Africa A by 257 runs with rueful expressions.
Our attention would wander when the game hit a bit of a lull meaning we calculated that one of the Grumblers had consumed approximately 175,000 cups of tea and counting… and another polishes off at least 60 gypsy tarts every cricket season!
The final day of the Lions game saw a negligible crowd but gave me the chance to have a chat with the latest applicant to join the Nackington Road Grumblers proper.
Originally from Cheltenham, so a Gloucestershire fan, but now ensconced in Herne Bay, “Wurzel” is keen to join our throng. I’m sure he will be admitted, he dislikes Essex and Surrey and promises not to get too excited when Kent play Gloucestershire so won’t be blackballed for his unfortunate upbringing…
The trip to Nottinghamshire brought significant national media attention to the Championship for once because of the experiment with a pink ball and day night fixtures under lights.
Anyone unfortunate enough to have attended the previous experiment in 2011 between Kent and Glamorgan in Canterbury could have told them the drawbacks, many fans that are elderly or rely on public transport drift away long before the end of the final session and few extra come through the games at tea.
Weather is crucial too, it can be hideously cold once the sun sets, even in an English mid-summer, last time we needed bowls of hot soup and Bovril from the Ames Stand to keep the creeping frostbite at bay…
On paper it looked like Kent’s toughest game of the season, Nottinghamshire are a team of all the talents, illustrated by their triumph over Surrey (hurrah!) in the 50 over final. Our only hope was rain and so it proved.
It was a bit of a disaster, 180 all out and Notts 135-3 at the close. I didn’t bother the next day, at the end of which Kent were staring down the barrels of a thumping defeat 105-4 in their second innings, but less than 60 overs were possible thereafter and Kent escaped with a cheeky draw.
The Northants game has now assumed huge significance in the promotion race before the long T20 campaign kicks off.
Decisions over which overseas star starts will generate much debate, but all we want at the moment is a return of some of the brio and confidence that bubbled so promisingly back in the spring.