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Grumblers enjoy an unexpectedly exciting final day

Friday 8th May 2015

It has to be said that Kent’s start to the 2015 season has been less than ideal, writes Eddie Allcorn.

If there is one thing worse than losing to Essex at Chelmsford in less than two and a half days, it is listening to the ball-by-ball coverage largely provided by two Essex stalwarts.

They tried ever so hard to be even handed but succeeded only in being mildly patronising towards Kent with a dash of bias when it came to defending the quality of the lively pitch.

To lose by five wickets having reduced the hosts to 67-6 at the close of play on day one and just three bonus points.

Failure to put runs on the board in the first innings and an inability to polish off the tail had dogged Kent for much of last season.. Stevens, Coles and Northeast made significant contributions but some of the dismissals and fielding was not great.

I hoped for better away to much-fancied Lancashire with the added proviso that Manchester in April can mean sufficient precipitation might save us if things didn’t go to plan.

Even the Mancunian weather let us down, meaning when asked to follow on and then set the hosts a little over 100 to win they were able to time their chase perfectly.

Had Kent lasted five more overs in their rearguard they might have escaped with a draw but despite the efforts of Northeast, Denly and Claydon in the game, Kent finished the contest with a second defeat and a measly seven bonus points.

The visit of Leicestershire to Canterbury for the first home game of the campaign was therefore immediately turned into a crunch game given the visitors haven’t won a County Championship game since September 2012.

Having gone more than two seasons without tasting victory Kent certainly didn’t want to be their first victims.

I missed Day One thanks to Sky TV causing the final day of League One football fixtures to be switched to the Sunday. I took in the delights of Gillingham v Notts County at Priestfield rather than taking my usual seat amongst the Nackington Road Grumblers although with the first session lost to rain it was a significantly abbreviated day.

With just 67 overs bowled, I was a little startled to be texted the close of play score of Leicestershire 300-5! Nearly four and a half an over? Oh dear.

I finally at long last got to see some live competitive cricket on Day Two. Given the less than brilliant start to the season the Grumblers were already in fine fettle on the Bank Holiday in the sunshine.

It was windy but still delightful to be at the The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence once again. A decent crowd enjoyed Kent’s fight back, Stevens took all five wickets to fall as Kent hustled Leicestershire out for 386.

They then inched their way to 155-3 with Denly making a painstaking 56 in 56.5 overs when bad light stopped play before the rain came again.

Day Three was a bit of a trial for the fans that braved the conditions. It was ferociously windy all day, scarves, hoodies, even balaclavas were necessary to fend off the gusts on a day when Kent collapsed from a position of relative strength (257-4) to 268 all out. Six wickets for just eleven runs, four of which were an edge through the slips that found the boundary.

McKay had bowled well with some genuine menace but some of the shots players got out to were sloppy.

Leicestershire’s second knock saw them reach 71-2 and then they too collapsed on a day of eighteen wickets to 86-7. Suddenly it was Kent that were sniffing their first win of the season thanks to some solid bowling by Stevens and young Thomas. Inevitably the Leicestershire tail then wagged and they finished the day on 189-8.

Given the weather forecast for the final day most spectators expected them to declare first thing on the final day but instead they wasted time adding just seven runs for the loss of their final two wickets to leave Kent a tricky 315 to win in 91 overs.

The predicted rains then came wiping out the rest of the session and even with an early lunch the target became 315 from a minimum of 73 overs.

About fifty minutes into the afternoon session it threatened to rain, a few spots were felt and the umpires rather prematurely pointed to the pavilion, the ground staff then attempted to bring on a large cover from midwicket, the rain held off, the umpires dithered, the players hesitated and then the fun really began.

The sparse crowd were treated to some pantomime as the huge gusts of wind played havoc with the sheeting. The ground staff did their best but the elements got on top dragging them helplessly across the square threatening to carry them all off Mary Poppins style in the general direction of Whitstable.

The players made sure they didn’t get dragged into the melee whilst the spectators safely ensconced in the Ames Stand roared with laughter. The slapstick capers lasted several minutes meaning two more overs were lost although it is the first time I’ve ever seen airborn groundsman stopped play before…

The conditions were punishing, the weather uncertain and with few global superstars featuring in a game now denuded of further time and overs to reach a natural conclusion a psychologist would no doubt have a field day.

By keeping wickets in hand and ticking over they’d made it to 250-4 in the 65th over thanks to a vital 103 by Bell-Drummond.

With Stevens in with him the asking rate of 66 from seven overs didn’t look quite so far fetched in an era of astonishing one day chases but then both fell in quick succession leaving Kent intent on securing the draw.

Punchdrunk from two winless years, they missed a trick and Kent survived. It had been an unexpectedly exciting final day. Kent were 43 runs short in the end and perhaps the overs lost were vital.

The match had more plusses than minuses after a ragged Day One. Bell-Drummond and Denly batted well, Coles, Stevens and Thomas were amongst the wickets and in truth, aside from nearly suffering from exposure the Nackington Road Grumblers enjoyed their first game of the season and like me are looking forward to the visit of Glamorgan.

We could do with a win and with less gale force wind, but the cricket season is well and truly up and running. Hurrah!