It is twenty years since I last attended a cricket match at Hove but the recent top of the table T20 Blast clash between Sussex and Kent plus the offer of a lift from a fellow Kent fan keen to “tick off the ground” meant I made my way through the gates of the County Ground for the first time since the mid 1990s.
Our spur of the moment decision to book tickets the previous week was fortunate given the game was ultimately a sell out.
After the crushing defeat on a lovely evening at Lord’s in front of 13,500 and the magnificent win at the Oval amid the beer-snaking carnage of 21,000 fans it was intrigued to see what a T20 evening down by the seaside is like.
Echoes of Canterbury or something completely different again? With a crowd capacity of 6,000-plus I expected more decorum and less drunken stupidity than the Oval which was a blessed relief and indeed our evening as a whole was a splendid and civilised one.
Given my Mum is from Chesterfield and my Dad from Hastings I could imagine in a parallel universe ending up a Derbyshire or Sussex fan.
Thankfully the cricketing gods smiled upon me, but we soon realised on taking our seats (temporary chairs a la Tunbridge Wells at the traditional “deckchair end”) that we were very much in the minority.
T20 does not lend itself to large numbers of away fans very often given the shortness of the games, the timings (weekday evening starts and finishing too late to get back from some grounds by public transport) and in the case of the Oval, Hove, Cheltenham and Chelmsford, simply selling out!
Kent went into the game having been deposed at the top of the T20 Southern Group by dint of being otherwise engaged with the Aussies whilst Sussex snuck in a couple of games.
With Essex entertaining the tourists we knew a victory would see us leapfrog Sussex back to the top of the table. I have to admit that I travelled more in hope than expectation though given Kent’s nasty habit of “bottling” the big one day games over the last thirty years, but was to be pleasantly surprised!
First up my impressions of Hove. Well they have build an impressive modern single tiered South West Stand (£25, reserved seating) which has added greatly to the ground since my last visit.
Other than that the Pavilion at mid-wicket area remains functional rather than a thing of beauty, but I’d admit is more quirky and less of a concrete carbuncle than I had remembered.
The tiny South Stand perched upon an austere blank wall (the former Arthur Gillian stand) is not the best use of space and behind it is a brutalist brown 1960’s office block without any redeeming features.
To the left of that is a cluster of assorted corporate hospitality venues of varying design. That side of the ground being so narrow and backing onto homes that it does well to even squeeze in a scoreboard-cum-big screen complete with flamethrowers.
Our end was gentle grass banking with rows of seats laid out, I half expected deckchairs in our “general admission area” – (£20 a pop) but I guess they take up too much room for a sell out T20 crowd.
We were lucky to get a front row seat but most people had a reasonable view. The toilets were not too old fashioned and coped with the queues which was important given the excellent choice of real ales at reasonable prices available in the ground. The temporary food outlets were varied and it was all rather well organised.
I had expected a bit of a scrum but it was fine. My only moment to genuine concern was when their Sussex “Sid The Shark” mascot spotted me in my Kent shirt and came over for a bit of playful “banter”…
As to the cricket, well, it was wonderfully one-sided. As a neutral you want a nail biting finale at a T20 game, but as a committed away fan chasing a crucial victory and a boost to our net run-rate the game couldn’t have gone better.
Kent won the toss and elected to field. I always prefer Kent to bat first and set a target to avoid “scoreboard pressure” but they ignored my wishes and trotted out and immediately attempted to put the squeeze on the hosts.
With Sussex on 43-1 from the first five overs of the power play that appeared to have backfired but then a second wicket brought a slowing of the run rate and on what had initially looked a belter of a pitch it became increasingly difficult to find the boundary and to get the slower bowlers away.
Stevens, Tredwell and Cowdrey gradually silenced the crowd as their target slipped from 180 to 160 and then 140. Machan made 39 but a total of just 136-8 in 20 overs looked well below par even if the wicket was a bit slower and lower than expected.
Kent then lost a wicket in the first over to set my nerves a jangling and after six overs were a precarious 46-3. Thankfully Blake (52*) and Billings (39*) then settled down and calmly began to rebuild. In a low scoring game they didn’t have to do anything daft, but gradually gathered pace.
Suddenly they were ticking over at nearly ten an over and the target was less than 50. In the end they saw Kent home for a stunning win with more than five overs to spare which is quite a thrashing in T20.
Our tiny pocket of Kent fans cheered wildly despite standing out somewhat amongst the massed ranks of glum Sussex fans.
We were well aware T20 can be like that, it happened to us at Lord’s, we also appreciate this Kent side are unfancied and unfashionable and one great win doesn‘t guarantee anything, but it is thoroughly enjoyable when they do win against the odds with a largely local team.
Our trip back to the Garden of England was an understandably cheerful one but “this is Kent” so we won’t be taking anything for granted over the final four group games beginning with our televised game at home to Somerset on Friday at Canterbury.
My mood was further improved by the result from Leicester in the Championship. After losses to Derbyshire and Northamptonshire it was essential to beat Leicestershire and move away from the bottom of the table.
Matt Coles was the star taking ten wickets in the match for 98 runs. A brilliant effort which should have cheered the purists as much as the win at Hove cheered the T20 aficionados.
I love both so was doubly happy! With the Ashes now up and running too and the Tunbridge Wells festival on the horizon it feels like we’re now really into the heart of this summer of cricket in 2015.