Have we turned a corner?

Saturday 23rd May 2015

Have we turned a corner?

AS a lifelong Gillingham FC and Kent Cricket fan means a lifetime of straw clutching in times of trouble but I genuinely felt a corner was turned after the draw against Glamorgan.

Perhaps it was just a thrilling final session on a sunny day that had gripped everyone, even the Nackington Road Grumblers were rendered grumble-less at times, captivated by some classic fourth day Championship cricket.

The end result might have been a draw, a concept that isn’t always appreciated by those brought up on IPL, but for the usual suspects scattered around the ground it was a splendid four days of cricket in pleasant conditions.

Kent reached 330-8 on day one, Bell-Drummond made 123 and Stevens 50.

Arguably the most notable feature being the absence of Rob Key (some second XI stuff pencilled in to get his mojo back) and Northeast acting as captain.

With Haggett in for Claydon, Cowdrey for Key and Tredwell for Riley changes had been made to seek a change in fortune.

A little late biffing by Coles on day two took Kent to 357 all out and then the visitors reduced to 41-3 and then 182-7.

Unfortunately the inability to knock over the tail remains an issue (where are Headley and McCague when you need them?) so that Bragg was able to reach his century (104) ably assisted by Lloyd‘s useful 45.

The fact that numbers ten Cosker (14) and eleven Hogan (19) were allowed to chip in meant they mustered 281 all out, but at least Thomas (3-40) and Coles had bowled with plenty of vim and vigour.

Chairman George Kennedy CBE spoke well and candidly at the members' forum on non-playing issues.

He explained the situation regarding the ongoing Dover Road development, the planned appeal and their hopes for significant progress sooner rather than later.

Tellingly there was also a show of hands regarding Colin Graves’ suggestion regarding reverting to three-day LV= County Championship matches, lets just say if he’d been in the pavilion he’d have been in a minority of one!

Back to the game and Day Three saw a splendid night watchman effort by Tredwell (53) and promising knocks by Denly (66), Cowdrey (54) and Nash (45). Glamorgan were set 404 to win and closed on 32-1.

The final day was gripping, with the visitors reduced to 50-3 things looked promising, but another night watchman, this time Cosker proved to be pretty hard to shift.

He made 69 before Haggett finally removed him whilst Ingram and then Wagg (both 51) battled manfully to save the game.

It was tense stuff, Kent tried everything, the indefatigable Coles bowled 31 overs, 51 in total in the game, but ultimately, even with Glamorgan eight wickets down with twenty overs remaining you felt on a pretty true wicket with them simply batting to survive it would be tough to winkle them out.

The ninth wicket fell with more than seven overs remaining but Lloyd and Hogan negotiated the final overs to see out an epic draw.

The Kent players must have been totally frustrated, but with so many positives to take from the game the mood was cautiously upbeat amongst the regulars by the Ames Stand.

The Kent faithful were then rewarded with their first win of the season at home to Sussex in the NatWest T20 Blast. Games are pretty short and often lack the time and space to ebb and flow, but those braving what became a chilly mid-May evening saw a super contest that wasn’t just a predictable procession.

Kent are doing their best to involve the 3,000 that usually roll up for matches by echoing the incredibly successful Catch a Six competition from the recent World Cup in New Zealand that saw hordes of orange-shirted fans diving full length on the grassy banking to take one-handed catches to win a share of $750,000 NZ dollars.

The Kent version, Grand in the Hand, whereby if you buy a t-shirt with the logo and then catch a six (it can be two handed) at one of the seven T20 home games you get to take home £1,000 worth of prizes from sponsors Samurai and Spitfire.

There was also a chance to win a £1,200 Smeg fridge freezer thanks to sponsors Parker Building Supplies via a simple quiz question although perhaps the more pertinent question might have been how a potential winner might then be able to then lug it home.

The Spitfire Sweethearts also added to the fun with their less than accurate throwing abilities. At various points during the evening they throw souvenir balls into the crowd, following a six or an official break in play.

Back to the match and Kent began brilliantly. With the help of the six-over powerplay fielding restrictions, Denly and Northeast were able to rack up 75 inside the first eight overs.

A score of 200 was a genuine possibility, but then wickets began to fall and despite a brisk 46 by Billings the final total of 185-9 in 20 overs was considered slightly below par. Good grief, expectations of scoring rates have been revolutionised in the last decade.

Robinson did bowl well but some of the shots the players got out to were not recommended but at least they were adventurous and brave.

Kent might not have some of the power hitters of other counties and they certainly don’t have a Jayawardene to bolster their batting like Sussex, but what they do have is a tight squad of young and enthusiastic players.

They are outsiders for the competition and many fans have higher hopes for the 50 over format, but it shouldn’t stop them aiming to qualify from traditionally the strongest group.

The start to the Sussex innings mirrored Kent’s, 76-0 off 7 overs and things were looking grim, but then Sussex stumbled, the required rate began to climb and the keen fielding and tighter bowling began to turn the screw.

Nevertheless with so many wickets in hand Sussex were still hot favourites on 150-2 in the seventeenth over. Suddenly though when Nash and Jayawardene gone Sussex appeared to panic.

Chasing ten an over these days is no longer seen as difficult but it only takes one tight over and a couple of wickets and the rate can sky rocket. Claydon’s two wickets for four runs in the penultimate over proved decisive and Kent squeezed the Sussex batting sufficiently to earn a thrilling and unexpected win by seven runs.

Having broken their duck at long last Kent then travelled down to Bristol and returned with their first Championship win of the campaign.

They now find themselves in sixth, just 14 points behind Northamptonshire in second.

It was fantastic to follow the progress over four lively days as Kent inched towards victory. Coles (3-49) and Stevens (3-50) bowled well on Day One, Coles 66 and Haggett 54 then got Kent’s noses in front on Day Two.

Thomas and Stevens stuck to their task on Day Three leaving Kent 243 to win on Day Four which they duly achieved for the loss of just two wickets.

Denly’s unbeaten 117 was particularly welcome after his move back from Lord’s whilst Northeast chipped in with a crucial 88.

The test will now be to follow up two fine wins with consistent performances away to Hampshire on Sky in the T20 on Friday and then against Surrey in the Championship on the long awaited return to a revamped Beckenham on Sunday.

Inevitably engineering works mean it will take longer to get to Beckenham from Canterbury than it took me to recently go from London to Preston, but at least the train strike threatening Monday and Tuesday has now been cancelled.

There is unlikely to be a Pietersen circus at Beckenham after Colin Graves stirred everything up due to injury, but that won’t detract from my excitement at seeing the new stand and facilities are like and our largely homegrown team take on Surrey.

It might be due to circumstance rather than some grand plan, but I have to say it is easier to identify with the current team due to their connections with the county.

In particular credit must go to the returning duo of Coles and Denly. They appear to be back where they belong performing for Kent. The tough bit now is sustaining their form for the rest of the summer.