Playing the “Long” Game

Monday 11th August 2014

Playing the “Long” Game

It has to be said that many Kent Members and supporters of a certain vintage understandably remember the old “Sunday League” from the 1970’s and 1980’s with great fondness, a mixture of logical, regular fixtures, excellent attendances, live terrestrial coverage, a winning team and an era where the world’s best overseas players gravitated to England for the entire summer rather than a brief but lucrative stint at the IPL in between some international commitments somewhere on the planet.

Obviously that era has passed and can never be replicated, the mushrooming of international cricket with an almost continuous global fixture list and the advent and the insatiable domestic requirements of Sky TV have seen to that. By the 1990’s the old 40 over tournament had lost some of its lustre although the popularity in the Garden of England rarely wavered, partly due to a pretty handy one-day team handing out spankings to all and sundry until the final week or so when the wheels tended to come off, but sadly by then the same couldn’t be said for many of the other counties…

With T20 now having “replaced” the Sunday League in terms of popularity in terms of attendances and television coverage (albeit for the Sky owning minority), the desire to retain the glorious prize of a Lord’s Final and to give players experience of the long format 50 over competition has meant the mid-season launch of the Royal London One Day Cup. It is logical to give county players experience in the format given it is utilised world wide including for the holy grail of the World Cup (to be held in 2015 in Australia and New Zealand) and the Champions Trophy as well as the usual one day series.

Kent’s first outing in the new format was at home to Durham and on a lovely day a pretty decent crowd witnessed a smashing contest which ebbed and flowed thoughout the day before Kent squeaked home under the floodlights by two wickets with four balls to spare (echoes of Surrey ‘92). Obviously the longer one-day competition allows for teams to recover and rebuild from a poor start, something that rarely happens in the quick-fire T20 bash. Given Durham were 151-2 from the first 30 overs many Kent fans were fearing having to chase a 300-plus target, but the bowlers stuck to their task, chipped away and MacLeod got bogged down before falling on 94. 271-7 from 50 overs was still a sizable score, but modern cricketers are used to tackling totals that 20 years ago would seem beyond them.

Perhaps it is a combination of better pitches helped by a rare decent summer (thus far!), a lack of really ferocious bowlers in the domestic game (no Waqar Younis sending down 90 mile an hour toe crushing inswinging yorkers at the death) or simply a knock-on effect of 12 years of T20 that mean batsmen know how to pace a chase, that even number 8’s and 9’s can swing a bat and that even 100 needed off 10 overs is now seen as eminently doable! Revolutionary compared with even a decade ago.

Kent set off cautiously and by half way were in trouble at 108-5, with both Key and the talismanic Stevens back in the pavilion the Canterbury regulars were braced for a gradual slide towards defeat but the young guns Sam Billings (64) and Fabian Cowdrey (28) came to the rescue but when the seventh wicket fell for 203 with eleven overs remaining it looked a long shot once more. In the end Haggett and Tredwell saw Kent through to a thrilling victory which had those lucky enough to witness it beaming with euphoric delight at the end. Unbelievably it would be the dullest of Kent’s first three outings in the new competition!

I didn’t make it down to Taunton for the second game, but instead kept an eye on the Cricinfo website as the score rattled along. By the halfway point I was gobsmacked to see Kent had smashed a stunning total of 383-7 off 50 overs, just one shy of their record ever one day score against minor county Berkshire 20 years ago. Northeast (135) and Bell-Drummond (61) had built the foundations and then Billings annihilated the Somerset attack scoring 135 not out from just 58 balls. By now I was glued to the local radio commentary, we couldn’t throw it away could we? Vague memories of an utterly traumatic semi-final defeat at Taunton back in 2002 in the Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy where Somerset made 344-5 (50) and Kent were 336-6 and perfectly poised to chase it down before being bowled out for 339 with five balls to spare nagged away in the back of my mind…

In the end the game left most fans in tatters, with Somerset a seemingly hapless 268-8 and needing two a ball, incredibly it came down the final ball of the 48th and final over (two having been lost to rain). With Somerset requiring 15 to win off the last over and having scored nine of the first three deliveries I was resigned to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory but then the final twist came, three singles and an epic victory by two runs (d/l) for Kent. Astonishing! We couldn’t better that could we?

I was lucky enough to be at the Oval for yet another absolute classic that has the crowd on the edge of their seats for most of an extraordinary day. In the end it was a tie, a tie! The bemused and exhausted mix of Kent and Surrey members filing out of the Oval pavilion at about half past nine on Tuesday night could only shake their heads in wonderment. Another stupendous game which ebbed and flowed throughout the day.

Northeast (63) helped build another platform with the help of Cowdrey (75) before Billings strode out to cream another brilliant knock (87). Only Tremlett (4-38) and been able to stem the tide, but on a belter of a track Surrey set about chasing the target of 314 with gusto. Their blistering start meant they were often ahead of the Duckworth-Lewis calculation on the scoreboard and twenty or more runs ahead of where Kent had been at the same stage. Kent did finish their innings strongly with relish (114 runs off 12 overs) but with Surrey poised at 176-2 in the 30th over they were strong favourites. The Kent bowlers kept their nerve though and the trio of spinners Tredwell, Cowdrey and Riley stemmed the tide, chipped away taking wickets and the balance began to switch once more.

When Surrey’s seventh wicket fell on 250 in the 44th over, the travelling fans were jubilant and a third straight win beckoned. This being Kent it was never that straight forward, Mahmood and Ansari swung their bats to great effect and suddenly one big over would get their noses in front. Unfortunately for Bollinger it was his penultimate over that “went big” for 19 runs leaving Surrey a realistic 30 to win from three. His final over only went for 5 leaving Claydon to bowl the final one with 16 required. A tough ask you’d think, but the first ball went for 6, the second for 2 and the third for 6 leaving them just needing 2 to win from three balls – a formality! Well no, a single, a dot ball and then a thrilling run out off the final ball meant a tie, not a “draw” as some local media insisted on calling it!

After a much needed lie down in a darkened room it was back to The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence for the fourth game in eight group games knowing a third win would set Kent up nicely. It never quite hit the heights on a tricky wicket, and having dismissed the visitors for 209 Kent fancied their chances but when they had crawled their way to just 15-0 from the first 9 overs nerves were beginning to jangle again. However Kent kept their composure and Stevens (62 not out) saw them home despite the usually jinxing presence of the Sky cameras.

Whether Kent can sustain such glorious momentum (eight wins in ten games in all competitions) is debatable, but most fans will now be hoping for a spot in the last eight of the 50 over cup. Whether such belligerent form will take them back to Lord‘s for a first time since 2008 is obviously still to be revealed, but it could be fun finding out!