Juggling Balls…

Sunday 24th August 2014

I’ve always been an enthusiastic fan of Canterbury Cricket Week, I first went in 1979 as an 11 year old kid and was a bit bemused by all the tents that had sprung up with mystifying or exclusive sounding names and the traditions that echoed down the years from another sepia-tinted era. 35 summers later and I’ve still only ever managed to get in the CAMRA tent for a pint of real ale and a slice of home made cake.

This season the festival was a bit later than usual and the Championship match started on a Friday and it was all a bit subdued really. The first match was a Royal London One-Day Cup game against Sussex under the lights on the Wednesday but a less than promising forecast must have put some people off. Two hefty showers did send everyone scurrying for the tents, but in the end Kent rattled up 299 all out with a ball to spare before skittling Sussex for 183 well within their reduced 35 over allocation. It says something for the modern one-day methods when setting the visitors 300 to win was deemed to be “a bit below par”!

Unfortunately that ninth victory in eleven completed matches (one tie, two abandonments) which had reinvigorated Kent’s entire season then came to a rather tame end with two pretty conclusive and sobering defeats. Going into the Hampshire game Kent supporters were hoping for a fourth straight Championship win to leave Kent in the driving seat for the promotion run-in, at the very least defeat had to be avoided, but in the end the visitors racked up 380 in their first innings and set the tone for the remainder of the match.

I didn’t get to see Kent’s first innings reply because this is of course that time of year when cricket and football overlap and sports fans end up juggling their priorities. Gillingham playing Yeovil in their first home game of the season took mine, as it did for many of the Members who usually sit with the “Grumblers” at the Nackington Road End. The timing for festival week wasn’t great with the launch of the new Premiership too.

Another distraction was the decisive Oval Test match between England and India, many, many Kent fans head up to South London for a day at the Test every year so were pretty peeved when they realised it would clash with Cricket Week. I spent the Sunday watching England scoring at 9 an over before humiliating the tourists by an innings and 244 runs. 94 all out meant an early finish, but a memorable and victorious day, spoilt only by the score updates I was getting from the Spitfire Ground (they‘d set us 500 to win the bounders!).

The fourth day was played out to a rather sparse crowd of resigned onlookers. Hampshire duly completed their win by 196 runs at quarter past three on the final afternoon although Steven’s typically belligerent 74 and Doug Bollinger’s career best 33 not out made for an entertaining if forlorn finale. The highlight of the game, arguably the summer though was a stupendous catch in the crowd about two rows away from us in the green seats at the Nackington Road end. Stevens launched the ball straight back over the bowlers head for six, we all flinched as we realised the trajectory was rather too close for comfort, but then a chap with his young daughter perched on his knee calmly put her down to one side, stood up, took one measured step to his right and nonchalantly caught the ball one handed. He then tossed the ball back as if nothing had happened, gave an airy wave, plonked his child back on his knee and carried on oblivious to the applause from the nearby spectators. Tenterden CCC (on his fleece) certainly have a cool customer and a terrific fielder in their ranks!

The final game, again under lights in the Royal London One-Day Cup was against Middlesex, the last fixture in the group stage. With Kent already through and guaranteed a home tie the only thing riding on the outcome was whether Kent came first or second. Thankfully there was no real damage done, a home tie against Gloucestershire was more than most fans would have dared for when the competition began. Nevertheless it was a deflating evening in front of a decent crowd.

On a wicket that appeared to be a bit slow and low and conducive to spin Kent laboured to a decidedly mediocre 191 all out with nearly seven overs unused. Middlesex were already out but chugged their way to victory with the minimum of fuss and six overs to spare, Malan the architect with 76 not out. It was a downbeat way to say farewell to cult overseas player Doug Bollinger. He might have failed to take quite as many wickets as he’d wished, his batting was erratic and the less said about some of his fielding the better, but he remained a popular “character” in an era of too many bland but efficient cricketers. A throwback to a previous era.

Sadly it did mean the end of this summer’s Cricket Week, a cherished tradition that at its best is so evocative, it hums with contentment, but I have to admit this one didn’t feel quite so special as others have done in the past. Attention now turns to Kent’s quarter-final with Gloucestershire. The dream of finally winning a Lord’s Final after seven straight defeats since the last win in 1978 remains just that, especially for Kent fans (almost anyone under the age of 45) that missed out on the “glory years”. Whether this team can finally end the thirty six years of hurt is still to be seen, but at least Kent fans have something positive to think about as the season reaches it’s climax.

It wouldn’t be Kent if the Nackington Road Grumblers didn’t have something to grumble about I suppose. Chances of promotion have now been significantly dented and the ticketing arrangements for the home quarter-final for anyone not online have made many technological refuseniks feel decidedly excluded by the process. Perhaps all counties should remember from time to time that many of their most ardent supporters are neither computer-literate not only fans of county cricket. They tend to have a football team to cheer on and enjoy a day or two at the Test for a treat every once in a while too. In an era where the competition for the time and money of sports fans is increasingly cut-throat, county cricket should get a bit smarter with their scheduling and ticketing… See you all though for the last eight game! Come on Super Kent!

For full details on how to purchase tickets for the Quarter-final, including in person, phone and online, click here.