Ultimately Kent’s T20 campaign will be filed quietly away under “could have done better”. It looked done and dusted after defeat at home to Hampshire at the end of Canterbury Cricket Week but then Kent beat Somerset at Taunton.
Other results in a congested group then meant Kent would therefore still qualify IF they could win their last two games, at Chelmsford and at home to Surrey, an enticing but difficult proposition.
I was particularly pleased with this possibility because I had a ticket for the sell-out game at Essex on the Thursday night and it was no longer a dead-rubber. My first ever visit into the lion’s den, a first visit to the HQ of our bitter rivals.
I’ve got to say other Kent fans warned me “there be monsters” but in the end, I had a fabulous time.
It was always a bit of an anomaly that I had never been to Chelmsford given I have been to every other county to watch cricket except Leicestershire.
The High Speed train connection via Stratford certainly helped, 49 minutes to Stratford International, ten minutes over to Stratford Mainline and 26 minutes to Chelmsford. It can take longer to get to Tunbridge Wells!
It wasn’t far to walk to the ground once I’d realized you could enter the ground in an unexpected fashion way via a riverside park and unlikely looking underpass through to the backdoor “River Gate”. My ticket was for the lower tier of the double decker Tom Pearce Stand, a great view in the second row behind the bowler’s arm.
Now I have to admit I wanted to hate it all, the place, the ground, the locals, the members, but instead I absolutely loved it except for having to drink my beer out of a Graham Napier cup!
For big Test grounds, the Oval and Lord’s take some beating, but for a county ground, Chelmsford ticked plenty of boxes. It is tight, hemmed in, atmospheric.
It is a wonderful jumble of Dickensian old stands, a plethora or oddities, quirkiness and general eccentricity. Echoes of the old Southampton ground, but more so. I even preferred it to Hove.
The stewards were cheery and polite, the place well-signposted and they had squeezed something into every spare inch of the place. I did three circuits of the ground exploring whilst we awaited the departure of the Air Ambulance that was dealing with a serious incident at the ground.
The Essex hierarchy (Chairman John Faragher) then charmed me with a splendid three-page article in the match programme explaining their fundamental opposition to the 2020 plans for a city franchise based T20 competition.
I was further discombobulated by the Essex Members I sat amongst. They were polite, chatty, knowledgeable and fair. What was going on?!? What’s more they watched every ball, didn’t get up in the middle of the overs, didn’t get drunk and, whisper it quietly, even gave a certain Mr Denly a genuine standing ovation…
Ah yes, the match. Wow! Just wow! If I’d hoped for a perfect introduction to Chelmsford this would have been it. A sell-out crowd and Kent batting like a dream. The opening partnership began quietly, but then started to accelerate, the ball began to disappear to all quarters and then out of the ground. Thumped over my stand into the river, walloped over the pavilion, smashed high and handsomely into the new flats, a steady stream of new balls were required.
In the end Denly was caught by Foster off Amir for a stupendous 127 (66 balls, 11×4’s, 7×6’s), Bell-Drummond finished unbeaten on 80. Their opening partnership of 207 was a T20 World Record and stunned the locals. They finished on a sensational 221-2 off 20 overs and Walter’s final bowling analysis of 1-65 off 4 overs was eyewatering.
We might have made it look easy, but our own bowling attack has often leaked too many runs, so there was always a chance for Essex to cut loose too. The 6 over power-play brought annihilation for the Kent attack. The previously subdued locals were suddenly in full voice, the belligerence of Chopra mangled poor Claydon’s second over (6-6-6-4-4-4) to make it 94-0! Suddenly Essex looked like the favourites, only 128 more to win off 14, but then the fielding restrictions relaxed and Kent regained their composure.
At half way Essex only needed another 96 with nine wickets in hand but the squeeze was on. Each dot ball upped the run-rate required, but still each time Kent looked to be getting their noses in front the ball would exit the ground aerially. The defining moment saw Qayyam take another blinding catch to dismiss Chopra for 116 (59 balls, 6×4’s, 9×6’s) and Essex lost their momentum and stumbled. The remaining players couldn’t maintain the required rate and Kent pounced.
In the end Kent triumphed by 11 runs with Essex stranded on 210-5. Aware I was the only person in the Tom Pearce Stand wearing a Gillingham football shirt and grinning like a lunatic I clapped enthusiastically rather than whooping it up. Inside though I was absolutely thrilled to bits. Roll on Surrey!
Well you all know what happened next, with a quarter-final place in our hands we failed to perform at home to Surrey. On a low scoring wicket (we do much better on belters!) we did well to keep Surrey down to 154-9, Roy their saviour, but our reply was scratchy and nervous and we fell short by ten runs having been well on course at half-way.
A fifth loss in six at Canterbury was hard to stomach for us all. Some reactions on social media were a bit too personal and spiteful though. I know it shows we all care passionately and indifference would be much worse, but people also have to remember that this is not football and that vilifying individual players won’t change the result. Shredding their confidence won’t help in the promotion run-in either.
We can all debate the state of Darren Stevens’ heel, the quality of the one-day strips at home, some seemingly curious team selections, batting orders, bowling changes and our inability to perform consistently in the T20 again, but amid it all I will remember three games with great fondness.
The last ball tie in the rain at Hove, the perfect run chase at the Oval and of course the win at Chelmsford… yes, all away from home.
Back to the matter at hand now though and the race for the second promotion place in Division Two of the Specsavers County Championship. Assumming Nottinghamshire continue on their merry way, it will be between Worcestershire, Northamptonshire, Sussex and Kent for the runners-up berth.
Kent start with a crunch home game against Leicestershire at Canterbury before hitting the road to Chester-le-Street, Bristol and Chesterfield before finishing back at home with Glamorgan.
Kent’s final five fixtures are against the bottom five sides who look unlikely to join the race. Weather will no doubt play a part, but so too will Kent regaining some of their early season mojo if this is not all going to end in anticlimax once more.