By Eddie Allcorn
At last I feel like the cricket season has begun in earnest after what was a bit of a false start. A session watching Kent play out a rather pointless rain affected draw with Loughborough University hardly set the pulse racing and neither did listening to the loss at Worcester on a lively, albeit recently submerged track via the excellent BBC online commentary service whilst keeping an eye on the latest IPL scores from the Middle East. The first “proper” home game against Leicestershire saw the first day rained off, the second clashed with my trip to Walsall to watch Gillingham FC dig out a scrappy but vital 1-1 draw which left two sunny days to enjoy.
Unfortunately despite some imaginative declarations it all petered out on the last day into a tame draw like too many home games over the last few years. One for the purists although Bollinger‘s bowling caught the eye (like the serried rows of newly shiny green seats after their magical wash and brush-up), with a mixture of genuine speed, aggression and promise for the season ahead. There then followed a blank week with other results depositing Kent rather prematurely in bottom spot in the Championship, not the start we’d all been hoping for.
So then along came Surrey, a team featuring South African legend Graeme Smith and the “Marmite” talent that is Jade Dernbach. If ever there was a game Kent supporters would like to win it was this one! Day one on the Sunday featured glorious sunshine, a bumper crowd and a Kent bowling attack showing more teeth than last season. With Surrey at 32-3 and 146-5 the feeling as stumps with the visitors at 276-8 was of missed opportunities (and a few spilled catches) but at least Bollinger had showed no little menace and genuine hostility for most of the day and young Adam Riley had bowled beautifully with guile, imagination and plenty of spin.
The second day was almost a perfect one for Kent, the last two wickets were snaffled quite quickly and then Northeast and Key set about building a century stand. Nash eventually joined Key and they both went to their centuries in front of another excellent crowd basking in the sun, demolishing ice-creams and applauding every boundary with added gusto if it happened to be off the luckless Dernbach. After adding 197 imperious runs at nearly four an over Surrey did prevent total annihilation but The Spitfire Ground,St Lawrence regulars were in high spirits at close of play with Kent on 355-4.
Day three was a huge contrast, the sun still shone but runs were harder to find and wickets fell continuously. Kent might have fancied more than their final total of 435 but with Surrey soon reduced to 47-4 and 150-8 victory inside three days became a real possibility. Having had to wait until the last home game of the season last summer to witness a Championship win atThe Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence the Kent fans were lapping it up. Surrey did show a bit of backbone surviving the extra half hour and takingthe game into a fourth morning but it didn’t disguise the fact that Riley was bowling beautifully, Bollinger was still charging in with great energy and Claydon was plugging away with relentless accuracy.
The denouement was briefly delayed by a shower on day four but in the end Surrey’s last wicket wagging to add a further 33 still only left a target of 54 which was reached for the loss of two wickets at a quarter past one to secure full bonus points and to catapult Kent up to fifth and within sixteen points of the promotion places with a game in hand. More importantly Kent fans and Members had received a huge fillip. Riley took nine wickets in the match, Key and Nash both struck imperious centuries, young Billings had a splendid match behind the stumps including three stumpings and the whole performance over three and a bit days had seen Surrey comprehensively demolished. Wonderful.
Suddenly the optimism is back, taking 20 wickets was a tough ask last summer but with Riley and Bollinger in the mix that might be more likely. There was an intensity and enthusiasm present which bodes well for the future. It wasn’t perfect though, dropped catches and a couple of gift wickets were avoidable, but largely it was a fine win.
With the cricket progressing so splendidly on the pitch it was left to the regular Nackington Road Grumblers to find something else to moan about. A sunny bank holiday attracted a fair few spectators seemingly oblivious to the age old rule that you don’t get up during the over blocking everyone’s view of proceedings. One group in particular only felt able to arrange their next visit to the superbly refurbished Ames Stand bar including dithering over taking orders, handing over cash and returning with copious amounts of beer when erect in the middle of the over which led some regulars to debate the legalities, practicalities and potential satisfaction if stewards were issued with tasers to remind errant spectators of existing cricket watching etiquette! “It would only take a couple and the rest would quickly remember” was the general consensus! Do not block the view of any Kent fans when their beloved team are handing out a pasting to the auld enemy Surrey… you have been warned! Bzzzzzzz!