An ‘extraordinary game’

An ‘extraordinary game’

Kent Cricket Heritage Trust Chairman, Jonathan Rice, documents one of the most unique Canterbury Cricket Weeks on record.

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The COVID Pandemic has created many odd cricketing situations, but – so far – none has been quite as odd as the start of the match at Canterbury, beginning on 11 July 2021, when Kent took on Sussex in the 169th Canterbury Cricket Week.

The story began the afternoon before, when one of the squad which had just played, and duly thrashed, Surrey in the Vitality Blast, tested positive for the virus.

This meant that the entire squad, who had all been part of one bubble, had to self-isolate, and therefore were not available for selection for the next day’s game.

An evening and much of the night on the telephone then ensued, as Messrs. Downton, Walker and Storey tried to assemble eleven fit men to play the next morning, and, what was just as tricky, to register the squad as Kent players.

Of the eleven who turned out on the Sunday, five were Kent professionals already (Kuhn, Podmore, O’Riordan, Qadri and Gilchrist) one was on loan, Quinn, and the other five were more than surprised to be called up (Gordon, Finch, Lincoln, Houillon and Singh).

Heino Kuhn was given the captaincy of this scratch eleven, and not just because he is nine years older than any of his new team-mates, five of whom were born this Century. He duly won the toss and put Sussex into bat.

Sussex had issues themselves. With players away on England duty (Salt, Garton, Jordan) or injured (Archer) or self-isolating (Brown) they opted for a youthful side with no fewer than seven born this century, with Ollie Robinson, who captained their side, and Travis Head (both born in December 1993) older than all the rest by at least five years.The average age of the side was 21 years and 2 months, the youngest ever turned out by any county club for a Championship game. But at least the eleven men all knew each other before the game began.

The Kent squad in some ways took us back to the golden era of Canterbury Week, when amateurs would come out to play and the professionals would have to sit out a couple of games.

For professionals a Century ago, read ‘COVID-victims’ today. I’m not sure whether the new faces will play for Kent again, but they will always be able to say they are county cricketers.

The five Kent debutants; four playing their first ever first-class game and one a ‘refugee’ from Sussex, were soon joined by another, when Nathan Gilchrist had to drop out after one day’s play, having been ‘pinged’ by his NHS app.

This brought in our sixth debutant, and fifth new first-class cricketer, Bailey Wightman, a U.K. born Aussie to complete the side.

According to Andrew Samson, the TMS statistician, no county has ever introduced as many as five players new to first-class cricket in one match, always excluding a county’s first ever first-class games.

Among the bowlers, Jas Singh took five wickets in the match (4-51 and 1-32) and as the youngest member of the team, not yet 19, did his future career chances no harm at all.

Among the batsmen, Harry Finch, formerly of Sussex, was the star, making 24 and 115.

He’d been making runs in the Seconds for much of the Summer, so it was no big surprise that he played as well as he did.

He fits in well to the Kent squad, being one of three Harrys in the eleven, with Houillon and Podmore, and also having a middle name beginning with Z (Zachariah, the ‘posh form’ of Crawley’s mere Zak).

In the first innings, with so many debutants, it was inevitable that many personal milestones would be achieved.

No fewer than six players recorded their highest ever first-class score. Congratulations to Joe Gordon, Dan Lincoln, Harry Houillon, Hamid Qadri, Bailey Wightman and Jas Singh for their achievements with the bat.

When Hamid Qadri was batting with Matt Quinn in the first innings, it was, I dare guess, the first time that two men with names beginning with Q had batted together for Kent (on a Monday in July).

In the second innings, Lincoln, Houillon and Wightman all improved on their first innings efforts, although in Wightman’s case it was merely a matter of being not out rather than out. But what an important not out it was, saving the game with Harry Podmore, to keep us above Sussex in the table and away from total ignominy.

So who are these men who answered our call in time of greatest need to make their first-class debuts?

  • Joe Gordon, a nineteen-year-old born in New South Wales, has been a part of the Kent set-up since Under-14 level, and has been playing for Kent Seconds this Summer.
  • Dan Lincoln is now 26 years old and has played for Middlesex in the Vitality Blast. He has also played for Berkshire as well as Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and Gloucestershire Second XIs. According to Playfair, he played in goal for Arsenal junior sides, and acted as 12th man in the 2019 Ashes series. A breadth of experience, I think you could say.
  • Harry Houillon is a Kent-born wicket-keeper batsman who went to Sevenoaks School, alma mater of Paul Downton and Chris Tavaré among others, and played for Cambridge University this summer.
  • Bailey Wightman, born in Warwick but brought up in Adelaide, is a right-arm medium pace bowler who has also played for Warwickshire, Derbyshire and Worcestershire Second XIs.
  • Jaskaran Singh is a local lad, having been on the Kent cricketing pathway for some seasons. His lively pace bowling was the high spot of Kent’s attack on a wicket that went from hard to bat on, on day one, to fairly flat by day four.

But regardless of their individual statistics, all Kent supporters owe a debt of gratitude to these men for turning out for the Club and saving not only our cricketing faces but also Canterbury Week as well.

I hope they all prove good enough to get many more chances in the future.

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