Making a Game of It

Tuesday 24th September 2013

On the eve of Kent’s concluding game of the season at home to newly crowned Division Two champions Lancashire, the loyal members thronging through the St Lawrence gates for the last time will be hoping Kent can finally win a home game at the eighth attempt in the Championship this season. Their last home win came on Friday the 7th of September 2012 at the expense of the soon to be champions Derbyshire…

Last season Kent’s home record was won two, drawn five, lost one, this season Kent got clobbered in their first two at home to Northamptonshire and Worcestershire and have subsequently drawn the next five, part of an unbeaten run of eleven Championship games, albeit featuring only two wins, both away from home in an curiously odd campaign where success in all forms of the game has been far easier to achieve on the road.

Whether it’s the St Lawrence pitch, the pressure of performing in front of the ever demanding inhabitants or simply a statistical anomaly (4 wins in 20 at home, 7 wins and 6 defeats in 19 away), those like myself that tend to stick to the Garden of England have not enjoyed a vintage summer results wise.

In the case of the four day game though Kent do have an excuse, at least to partly explain why eleven of their fifteen games have thus far been drawn. Eleven have been affected by rain or bad light or both. In an above average summer weather-wise it has been galling to see the elements thwart various attempts to “get a result”, most notably at home to Gloucestershire in Cricket Week. With the forecast for the final day potentially featuring an end of world apocalypse the “deal” was done and the visitors were set 399 to win nominally in two days, but realistically in one. Inevitably Kent had Gloucester on the ropes and claimed the extra half hour but ultimately were thwarted with the visitors hanging on at 307-9 at the close, and for one of the few occasions this summer, the local weather forecast was correct. No apocalypse perhaps but sufficient precipitation to negate snaffling the last wicket.

What the episode did generate was plenty of debate amongst the St Lawrence faithful regarding declarations and targets in games affected by rain or simply meandering nowhere. With 10 of the last 15 home games having finished in draws, some of them tedious in the extreme, many of the regulars suggested that they’d rather county captains were more adventurous. With a pretty miserly three points for a win and a big juicy sixteen for a win the conclusion reached by many was that they’d rather win two and lose three than draw five. Obviously if the last day gets rained off there is nothing to be done, but having endured some less than thrilling final days of going through the motions and an early shake of the hands you have to ask whether cricket should put a higher emphasis on entertaining the public.

There is obviously a fear factor of not losing and given the reaction captains risk receiving if they get their calculations wrong and the opposition waltz to an easy win then you can understand the paranoia, but given the thrills of the contrived finish at Cheltenham when Nash’s 199 saw Kent achieve an astonishing win you have to say the general public want to see more of that! Perhaps next season if the new fixture list doesn’t force Kent to play ten of their sixteen Championship games in April, May and September more games will reach their natural conclusion, but if not, it would be refreshing to see captains embrace the chance of victory at the risk of defeat.

I was lucky enough to be at the Oval on the last day of the Ashes Test match, Michael Clarke was willing to risk defeat in the pursuit of a face-saving win. It might have ended in frustrating farce due to the absurd bad light laws and slow over rates but 23,000 people got to witness an absolutely brilliant days play. We turned up expecting a dour plod until a five o’clock shake of the hands and a spot of urn waving, but what we got instead was 447 runs, 17 wickets and a thrilling run chase. I do of course value the draw in cricket, I was there at the Oval in 2005 when Pietersen secured a rather famous one at the Oval, but I do think cricket captains should be braver and prepared to speculate to accumulate. If Clarke can declare and contrive an imaginative finish then so should captains of counties in the second division. Back in the days of three day cricket they were commonplace by necessity, four day cricket might be superior in many ways, but that art does appear to have almost been lost.

Kent Cricket Supporter, Eddie Allcorn