If you’d squinted it could have been 1947 not 2017 at Tunbridge Wells for the recent game with Sussex. The sun shone, more than 3,500 supporters thronged the famous old ground on Day One and Kent and Sussex locked horns with no little quarter given.
With the rhododendrons in full bloom and the tents packed with the cheerful murmur of a long lunch and chink of another glass of a favourite tipple being sunk all it took was for the sun to shine and Kent to be on top to make it a perfect day… which for this Kent fan it was.
OK so the queue for the CAMRA beer tent at lunch was epic, the train connections from Canterbury West at Tunbridge Wells were unhelpful and I got a bit sunburnt, but that aside it was everything you might wish for at a Cricket Festival.
Unfortunately, one unintended consequence of playing cricket in blocks of separate formats means actual Cricket Festivals are under threat, Tunbridge Wells “Week” was reduced to just the Championship match.
Perhaps some of the vandals tacking an axe to our domestic game should have been invited to Tunbridge Wells to appreciate the merits of playing Championship cricket at gorgeous out-grounds in the summer months… revolutionary I know!
As to the actual game, well 316-8 for Kent on the Friday was thought to be about par. Denly made a splendid 119 and Stevens a breezy 44.
The Saturday drew fewer but still many, many more than the “one man and his dog” so often portrayed by those that attack the Championship.
Some late order biffing took Kent to 369 all out, then step forward the man of the moment, Darren Stevens, 17 overs straight off, 5-40 and Sussex in bits (164).
Harris chipped in with 3-37 and Bell-Drummond’s unbeaten 68 saw Kent close on 116-0 having opted not to enforce the follow-on despite a mixed weather forecast for later on. Another perfect day for the Kent faithful for those not drawn away by the delights of the FA Cup Final.
The Sunday saw more Kent domination, Bell-Drummond fell on 90 having been jinxed by a Kent fan from Bromley who shall remain nameless but who specializes in jinxing our batsmen.
One of the Grumblers, he has been watching Kent for half a century, but still can’t help himself… all he had to do was mention how well DBD was doing and he was gone.
I think karma worked a little magic later though when his wife discovered how much he had paid for a 1926 edition of Wisden… I think he is still on the “naughty step” now!
One of the delights of cricket for many fans are the chances to collect statistics, books, annuals and of course Wisdens. I myself have limited myself to Kent annuals and Playfairs, but if you’re serious about the big yellow tome then look away now.
One of my friends has a Mother who doesn’t grasp the nuances of cricket memorabilia and when his Dad died chucked out all his “clutter” – including a long run of Wisdens back into the 1890’s!!!
Back to the present, and in between ice-creams and failing to snag a chilli before they ran out of bowls in the CAMRA tent, Kent declared on 298-2 and set about chipping away at the Sussex 2nd innings.
They closed on 182-6 and with “weather” around on the final day a few figure nails were bitten, in the end it took time but Kent were able to seal a magnificent win by 147 runs and remain second in the three-horse race for two promotion spots.
A few grumbled that Kent didn’t have a game the following week but with so much rain around it was no bad thing and even better Worcestershire lost to Sussex.
Nottinghamshire would probably have suffered the same fate to Derbyshire had the weather not intervened late on. It did confirm Kent’s position as serious promotion contenders.
Clearly the club are deadly serious given they have signed speedster Adam Milne for the latter stages of the season and Yasir Shah for the four Championship matches. A quality match winning spinner no less.
With Kent kicking their heels I then attended the Champions Trophy game at the Oval between England and Bangladesh. England won with a confidence and swagger unimaginable a few years ago.
Root is a fabulous talent, but so too Hales and Morgan. The fielding was sharp, the bowling mixed on a flat wicket. At least England didn’t choke at home this time despite the expectations. The 2019 World Cup here could be very interesting.
Mention must be made of the Bangladesh fans though, they made up a third of the crowd in their green shirts with a splash of red, waving their cuddly tigers and adding so much to the occasion.
One Kent fan asked me if their constant cheering and waving was irritating, I said “no”, unlike a packed house at the Oval for a T20 they weren’t drunk, they were knowledgeable, followed every ball and cared deeply about the actual cricket.
The fans from both sides mingled nicely and it was a pleasure to be there. Watching cricket on the sub-continent must be amazing…
Back to Canterbury and we host Durham next in another must win game. Sadly, I’ll miss most of it whilst I travel up to Glasgow to watch England play Scotland at Hampden Park in a World Cup Qualifier.
I have to admit that sometimes football trumps cricket for me, and this is one such time. I curse the fixture list but aside from a later clash between the Oval Test and a Kent T20 I’m hoping to juggle all my sporting interests once again this summer.