Grant: “A full crowd at The Spitfire Ground is a great place to play”

Grant: “A full crowd at The Spitfire Ground is a great place to play”

Canterbury may not have a huge amount in common with Stoke at first, second and 37th glance, but the bearpit atmosphere at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence on Vitality Blast nights can be a great leveller.

“Can they do on a cold night at the St. Lawrence?” might be cricket’s equivalent of the rainy Tuesday in the Potteries.

It’s certainly one of the weapons Kent’s hierarchy can use, as they continue to wrestle with the issue of how to compete with test-venue clubs.

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“The capacity here isn’t as big as some of the other grounds,” says all-rounder Grant Stewart. “But a full crowd at The Spitfire Ground is a great place to play. I don’t know what the opposition think but it’s like anywhere I guess. When you get a packed house here it always brings a bit of an extra edge to the boys and yeah, I think everyone can’t wait for that.”

At around 7,000, the capacity is around a third of some of Kent’s rivals, but they are right on top of the players and the effect was tangible when Canterbury last hosted a Blast quarter-final in 2021 and Birmingham Bears wilted in pursuit of a gettable target.

The Spitfires went on to win the trophy that year, only to finish bottom of the South Group in 2022.

Most fans would have taken a trophy and a wooden spoon, if offered. Were the players the same?

“Definitely,” said Stewart. “You always aspire to win competitions. Just about everyone in the dressing room would take it. Obviously we didn’t set out to come last last year, but definitely winning the trophy in 21 was a major highlight for everyone involved and as opposed to finishing mid-table both years, I’d much rather take winning and then not doing so well the following year.”

Asked to pin-point what went wrong last year, Stewart said: “It’s a big momentum game and sometimes you get in a run where those moments go your way. Last year we probably had a few games where it didn’t quite go our way and you can end up chasing yourself but I think everyone’s a good place now. We saw in 21 that we know how to win games, so hopefully we can start the competition well this year and get on a good run early doors.”

Bowling in overs 18 to 20 was also a problem and Kane Richardson’s signing is an attempt to redress that.

“I’ve watched a bit of him over the years,” said Stewart. “I’ve never met him, but he’s class in the death overs so he’ll be a great addition to have and hopefully to learn from as well. He’s got some great skills so I personally will be pretty keen to tap into that. It’ll be great to have him on board and he’ll be a great asset in the death overs.”

Who does he see as Kent’s strongest rivals? “Hampshire won last year so they’ll always be there but the South group’s pretty strong. We say that most years, but there are no easy teams. Everyone’s up for it and they’ve got solid squads, so we’ll just focus on ourselves and get back to playing our best cricket.”

The 21 Blast campaign also helped ignite Kent’s re-ball season after a stuttering start and Stewart is hoping for a repeat.

“It definitely gave us a lift,” he said. “You like to do well in all formats, obviously, but yes it’s not hard to see that we haven’t had the best start to the season so hopefully we can get in to some T20 cricket and get a few wins under our belt.

“Preparations have been good, obviously in the middle of a championship block it’s always tough to get some T20 stuff in but we were quite fortunate that we had a week off last week and could get some good squad practices together. I remember last year we had quite a few championship games leading in so it was a bit tougher in that sense, but I think everyone’s pretty keen to get in the T20 comp and get a change of scenery.”

And the scenery is undeniably different. It isn’t just Kent that can get lively when the Blast is in town.

“I can definitely picture a few grounds where I’ve copped a bit of abuse on the boundary, but that goes hand in hand,” Stewart said. “I reckon each individual probably has there own way of dealing with it. Some people thrive on it in the game, to sort of get up for the game. Personally I just try to ignore it. It’s probably quite new when you first start playing in bigger crowds, but the more you play in those of environments you probably get used to it a bit more.

“It goes hand I hand and I’m not saying it’s the right thing but it definitely adds to the energy and helps the boys through.”

How do you prepare for it? Does Matt Walker yell at them when they’re poised to take a catch in training? “That’d be a bit left field!” he laughs.

By Fred Atkins

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