For many Kent Members and supporters, the development of The County Ground, Beckenham has been a source of heated debate for several years.
The grand return to Beckenham this season was marked by the opening of the brand spanking new 2,000-seater Copers Cope stand and the shop/public bar adjoining the gleaming new cricket school.
The LV= County Championship fixture with Surrey certainly ended up being the ideal test for the revamped second home prior to a couple of NatWest T20 Blast matches.
Day one on the Sunday had to compete with an enthralling Test Match at Lord’s, a slightly iffy weather forecast, the final afternoon of the Premier League and for those wishing to travel by train, engineering works.
I immediately made my way over to the imposing Copers Cope stand and initial impressions were superb. The stand is steep, the aisles are wide, the legroom generous.
With Key making a welcome return to the starting eleven it was superb to see him make an encouraging 89 in tandem with Northeast to take the score to 182-2 in the 48th over, but when they went the fine start was squandered with the final eight wickets adding just another 100.
A total of 282 wasn’t a complete disaster, but a tad underwhelming having got on top. With Surrey closing on 17-1 it had been quite an engaging first day.
I missed Day Two having made alternative plans due to a planned but ultimately postponed train strike but returned for Day Three.
With Surrey starting the session on 250-8 having at one point been 170-7 it was a splendid days of Championship cricket with a healthier crowd, but one that ultimately saw Kent squander their potential advantage.
They allowed the Surrey tail to wag (36 for the last wicket giving Surrey a ten run lead) and then succeeded only in getting themselves in before getting out, often caught playing injudicious shots.
Denly made a gritty 66 but only Key and Northeast of the main batsmen contributed anything else of significance.
It took some crucial biffing, nudging, nurdling and chipping by Haggett and Coles to scramble to 204 all out. A below par effort setting Surrey 195 to win. Crucially close of play saw them poised on 44-1 and it would need a miracle on Day Four.
I gave it a miss because the train would have cost £25 for half a day and I was resigned to a Surrey win. When we had them 108-5 I was suddenly regretting my lack of faith in the team but ultimately the visitors made off with the points with three wickets in hand.
It was back on the train up to London on the Thursday for the NatWest T20 Blast game at Lord’s.
On a lovely early summer’s evening 13,500 people were able to enjoy the atmosphere, lots of families, kids (half-term) and a civilised Thursday night audience far removed from the raucous beer-snakes and epic post-work Friday night drinking at the Oval, it was all very convivial.
Unfortunately the game did not exactly go to plan as Middlesex smashed an intimidating 205-5 from their 20 overs. Stirling with 90 and Morgan 54 did the damage although their ability to place their shots and find the boundaries were crucial.
Given they were 148-2 off 13 overs Kent did well to drag them back a little but ten sixes and fifteen fours illustrated the earlier carnage.
Kent’s reply never got going and a combination of scoreboard pressure, some smart bowling, sharp fielding and daft shots saw Kent slump from an ordinary 52-2 to a dire 90 all out in less than fifteen overs.
It was a chastening experience and a record defeat in the format. Northeast top scored with 20 amongst the carnage whilst Franklin ended up with 5-21 due to the initial hard work by Finn (1-8).
The following evening and another trip to Beckenham saw Kent looking to bounce back at Beckenham against Surrey.
Northeast was the star with a sublimely confident 96, Cowdrey chipped in with a crucial 42 to set an imposing 193-8 off 20 overs (ten sixes) although on 155-3 from 14 overs they could perhaps have managed 20 more!
In the end scoreboard pressure, fielding that was far superior to Surrey’s and some enthusiastic bowling saw off Surrey’s challenge once Henriques had gone for 63.
The 23-run margin of victory was about right to leave Kent proudly top of the South Group.
They followed it up with an incredible win over Somerset (Mr Gayle) more of which in my next blog, but the performance in the final game at Beckenham fell flat.
It was sunny, 4,000 turned up against Gloucestershire despite the rival attraction of Surrey and the beer snakes at the Oval, the big screen worked, we could luxuriate in the Copers Cope stand affording us a wonderful view (Canterbury needs one too please!!!) but it wasn’t a happy evening.
The visitors bowled to their field, Kent hit nine sixes but struggled to hit fours and too many shots directly found Gloucestershire fielders.
156-6 was never going to be enough and the visitors coasted home for the loss of just one wicket, Klinger (69*) and Cockbain (54*) making it look easy.
At least the trains back to Kent making an extra stop at Beckenham Junction meant a swift direct trip home from the debacle.
So what was the verdict on Beckenham? Well for the NatWest T20 Blast, the crowds turned up and the facilities coped eventually after some teething troubles and you can see that becoming an established part of the calendar.
Personally I prefer Tunbridge Wells as an outground in terms of all-round experience but at least the improvements at Beckenham are significant and welcome. We all appreciate it is not East Kent Cricket Club and the tradition of spreading games about is to be encouraged.