Eddie Allcorn: Sussex tie will live long in the memory

Thursday 27th July 2017

Eddie Allcorn: Sussex tie will live long in the memory

Cricket has often lagged behind social progress in the wider society but it was great to see the England Women win the World Cup at Lord’s in front of a packed and raucous crowd will have probably had a few dinosaurs in egg and bacon ties choking on their breakfast kedgeree and devilled kidneys.

Back to Kent though and some County Members still have a patronising disdain for T20 Cricket as if it were mere tiddlywinks.

Agreed it is indeed short and sweet, it does lack the subtle ebb and flow of a four-day contest, it does accelerate the game exponentially but in principle I still think the short format has many positive features too.

It might come third on my Kentish bucket list after winning the County Championship and a Lord’s Final, but the 2007 triumph at Edgbaston remains my favourite ever moment watching Kent (I began watching them in 1979…).

Obviously, Gloucestershire still want to pay us back for that epic night in Birmingham a decade ago beating Kent home and away in this year’s T20 Blast but it didn’t put me off my planned trips to Richmond (first timer) and then Hove in search of a repeat of the joyful Oval romp.

The end results were not quite as splendid, but both occasions illustrated perfectly what the refuseniks might be missing out on. Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face does spring to mind…

The trip to Richmond to play Middlesex (ahem in Surrey) on a balmy Thursday evening was very convivial. The setting was lovely, adjacent to the Old Deer Park rugby ground.

A Richmond record attendance of 4,107 ringed the quaint ground with well to do contentment. A far cry from the frantic and squiffy pub crawl atmosphere of the Oval on a Friday night.

The vibe was of a summery garden party, barbeques frazzled and ale was quaffed slowly in the sunshine. The only danger was from whizzing cricket balls as both teams battled with brio and aggression.

Middlesex batted first and were soon making spectators take immediate avoiding action. McCullum provided the stardust for Middlesex with some high-quality biffing.

Many were traditional shots just hit very long and very hard. 83-0 off 9 overs had the sprinkling of Kent fans present fearing a proper old tonking given the small boundaries and muscular New Zealander.

The tide was stemmed initially by a tight Tredwell over, Coles then trapped Malan for 33 and Kent finally looked like they had a chance.

Middlesex reached 125-1 off 13 overs and Kent were potentially facing a chase of over 200. Tredwell then snaffled Stirling and the brakes were applied.

Sharp fielding and some clever bowling brought some modicum of control to the previous carnage but 156-2 with three overs remaining still gave Middlesex the edge.

Thankfully Haggett bowled McCullum (88) and in the same over Higgins went the same way. Morgan was still there though and had the home fans scattering twice in the next over before Claydon had him caught by Blake.

The collapse continued in spectacular style in the final over. Coles bowled it and contrived only the third hat-trick in Kent’s brief T20 history.

Franklin was caught on the boundary five yards in front of us by Blake and the trick was repeated in the very next ball to account for Simpson.

We roared our approval when Coles then comprehensively bowled Southee for a duck to put Kent back in the game… 179-8 off 20 overs meant game on… in theory anyway, having clawed it back.

Sadly, by the time we’d returned from the queue for beer in the pavilion Kent were 2-2 off 7 balls and the game looked up.

When Billings went on 36 I was resigned to our fate but then Northeast in partnership with Neesham threatened to save the day. They put on 75 and got us to 111-3 but then Northeast fell.

Neesham who got bogged down at one point fell to the same bowler Higgins and only a brief but violent cameo of 27 off 14 balls by Blake made the score respectable.

A loss by 16 runs in the end but the difference had been the 6 hitting, Kent had managed 3, Middlesex 11…

I left downhearted regarding the result but nevertheless determined to return to such a splendid out-ground, much nicer than Uxbridge and better than previous reports had led me to believe.

The Sunday afternoon trip to Hove was very different in terms of the day. The weather forecast was vile but having pre-booked my match ticket I was somewhat committed.

I’m glad I bothered in the end, but it was a close-run thing… I took the two-coach Southern chugger from Ashford via Hastings and along the Sussex coast to Brighton before making it to Hove.

The sky had clouded over and my heart had fallen slightly at the ominous formations but the philosophy of T20 is play should happen unless it really is wet and dangerous (a positive in my eyes, albeit with the help of floodlights).

It has to be said Kent did not get off to a flyer, the powerplay was anything but, Bell-Drummond scratched about using up valuable balls and the pace of Archer and Mills appeared to baffle the Kent batsmen.

85-3 off 13 suggested a modest total in the offing but then Kent suddenly accelerated. The architect was Billings, ably assisted by Neesham.

Suddenly it clicked and the ball was being deposited to all corners. 14 off Garton, 15 off Jordan, 11 off Archer, 12 off Mills and so it went on.

Some of the 6’s were huge, the wicket was quite central, but the boundary and the stands were cleared with effortless timing. Archer went for 9, the penultimate over by Garton for 15 and the final over by Jordan saw Billings finally out for a sublime 64 but Neesham made the most of having the strike for the last two balls helping them around the corner for two identical and astonishing 6’s to leave us on 176-4 as the heavens opened.

The forecast was grim and two thirds of the crowd gave up and went home. I didn’t blame them and considered getting an earlier train, but then it gradually stopped and the covers began to come off.

The cut-off point for a 5 over game was announced and to their credit they managed to restart with an 8-over bash. Sussex were set 89 to win via Duckworth-Lewis that was then adjusted to 88. 11 an over. Always an advantage to bat second in an abbreviated match. It was going to be tough for Kent to defend.

The first over by Coles was a disaster, Nash and Wright set about him tonking 19 off 6 balls. The remaining soggy and stoical Sussex fans were ecstatic.

I wished I’d caught the early train home. But then Neesham got Wright and a tight second over brought modicum of hope back. Haggett’s over went for 8 including a wicket and suddenly we were all engaged fully.

This was cricket played with the fast forward button stuck down. Nash then set about our bowling with a flurry of huge 6’s, one cleared the pavilion, one went over my head and out of the ground at the “deckchair end” but most amazingly of all one six cleared the flats on the side opposite the pavilion. Astonishing.

One top balcony area was packed with people watching for free and enjoying a BBQ. They probably weren’t expecting to do any fielding but another 6 landed amongst them on the roof terrace. They ended up throwing the ball back from the fourth floor outside the ground!

Claydon bowled the final over with just 8 required, a gimmie given the hitting, but he conjured up a sensational over, 2, wide, dot, one, one, one leaving Sussex 2 to win off the final ball.

It was hammered down the ground but the athletic Blake fielded smartly and sent back a laser guided throw, a direct hit, Evans run out by inches and Kent had snatched an unlikely tie!

I shook the hand of the Sussex-mad fan sat next to me and said, “well played”, he was too stunned to reply, I think he was going to cry.

Fair play to the lad for sticking it out despite the rain, he knew all the Kent players too and all the lyrics to the songs played, a sign of excellent parenting in my book…

I then made the long and winding journey back to the Garden of England buoyed by the drama and stolen result. It didn’t do either side much good in a ridiculously congested table but those sixes out of the ground and final run out will live long in the memory.