In my absence on the second
day Gloucestershire took control of the match. After skittling the rest of the
Kent batting for a lead of 14, they finished the day on 208 for two. Will
Tavaré was unbeaten having reached his century in 150 balls, putting them to
the sword in the belligerent manner of his uncle, the great Kent player CJ
Tavaré (who is not to be confused with the rather dour fellow of the same name
who played for England).
Unfortunately for us
nostalgists, Tavaré lost his off stump to Mitch Claydon early on. Darren
Stevens opened from the Nackington Road End, despite the ball being 55 overs
old. The Kent faithful suspect that Sam Northeast is agnostic towards the
spinners. We did not see Riley until only ten overs before the new ball could
be taken, and then from the Pavilion End, conventionally the wrong end for an
off spinner because of the slope. Graham Johnson, looking on as chairman of the
cricket committee, would hardly have bowled from that end in a 20-year career.
James Tredwell got his
first bowl of the day only three overs before the new ball was due (though it
was not taken straight away), and had two catches dropped in his first over,
including the key wicket of Alex Gidman.
Gidman, 46 not out
overnight, dominated the morning. This was his last innings for
Gloucestershire. He and his brother Will are following the road well-trodden by
gifted sportsmen out of Bristol, Alex to Worcestershire and Will to
Nottinghamshire. The younger brother was not playing here, but the captain was
set upon making the most of his farewell. His century, reached with a
straight-driven four off Riley, was warmly received by the Gloucestershire folk
present, who appreciate that furthering a career and staying at the County
Ground are mutually exclusive concepts.
Runs were easy to come by
before and after lunch as Gidman and Cockbain put on 124 for the fifth wicket.
Claydon removed both, Cockbain lbw and Gidman with a cracker that came back and
removed the middle stump.
Claydon bowled well,
finishing with four for 90 from 31 overs. But I was more taken with his
fielding, or to be precise, the lack of it. It was as much as I could do not to
stand and cheer when, at some point during the afternoon, he fielded a ball on
the boundary by stopping it with his foot. This used to be the default method
for the tall fast bowler (hence my comparison of Claydon with Norman Graham in
the post on the first day’s play) but has become one of contemporary cricket’s
great taboos. In my view it would be a better game if every XI had to contain
one player incapable of touching his toes.
The afternoon gave us two
things you don’t see very often. The first of these was three wickets in four
balls by David Griffiths, a fast-medium bowler making his Kent first-class
debut after spending most of his career on the fringe at Hampshire. Howell was
the first victim, slashing at a wide one to be caught behind. After Miles lost
his middle stump, Payne dug out the hat-trick ball, but had his leg stump
removed by the next one. I have not seen a hat trick in person since 2000,
(Simon Doull in Cricket Max and nobody realised it was a hat trick until after
the game—long story), so this was the next-best thing.
Five wickets had fallen for
ten runs and the lead was 370, probably enough but leaving Kent with a wisp of
hope. The second thing-you-don’t-see-very-often of the afternoon closed
Tom Smith and Liam Norwell
broke Gloucestershire’s tenth-wicket record against Kent, surpassing CF
Belcher and FG Roberts’ partnership of 74 at the Spa Ground, Gloucester in
1890. Belcher (I learn from Cricket Archive) had a seven-match first-class
career of which his 60 not out contribution to the record partnership was
almost certainly the highlight. It was 60 more than his captain, WG Grace,
managed on that occasion. Fred Roberts was more distinguished. He took 970
wickets in 261 matches with his left-arm pace bowling over 19 seasons. His 35
that day was only three short of his career-best with the bat.
Smith took Belcher’s role
as the all-rounder left to do as well as he could with only the last man to
assist him. Norwell’s first-class average of 14 is double that of Roberts, and
he swung the bat with some intelligence. Griffiths finished the partnership at
76 when he uprooted Norwell’s middle stump, finishing with a career-best six
I knew about the Belcher
and Roberts because a programme came with the scorecard that, among other
things, listed the main records in matches between the two counties, making the
pound charge for the card good value. Thus I learned that this was the third
Gloucestershire record that I had witnessed. First there was Sadiq Mohammad and
Zaheer Abbas putting on 229 sumptuous runs at St Lawrence in the golden summer
of 1976. Second was Paul “Human” Romaines and John Shepherd (who had a point to
prove) compiling 221 for the fourth wicket at the County Ground in 1983. Though
several of the Kent records were set in my era, I was not there for any of them.
Kent’s target was 448,
right at the impossible end of the continuum, except for those of us who had
been at St Lawrence the year before to watch Darren Stevens lead a
laws-of-probability-defying chase of 418 to beat Lancashire. In that
context, the extra 30 seemed a trifle.
We were kidding ourselves,
and we knew it. Bell-Drummond and Cowdrey were gone before the Byzantine light
regulations brought play to an end for the day. I was not there for the fourth
day, so missed Kent being bowled out for 203, a Gloucestershire win by 244
runs. Kent finished sixth in division two, Gloucestershire seventh.
A mediocre season then, for
both my counties (I lived in Bristol for 19 years and was a member of
Gloucestershire for much of that time). Kent, perhaps, have more cause for
cautious optimism, having reached the semi-finals of the 50-over competition.
What they need desperately is a decent fast bowler. Nobody is a greater admirer
of Darren Stevens than me, but no side with a 39-year-old shuffling in to open
the bowling is promotion material. Doug Bollinger was supposed to be the answer
this year, but he has lost his fizz and played in only half the Championship
games (I can’t resist the champagne metaphors with Bollinger, I know it’s a
Gloucestershire appear to
have more young talent where quick bowling is concerned. Both Miles and Norwell
looked decently sharp here. But even if they find the talent, can they keep it?
Kent have the same problem. Billings and Riley are both in the England
development squad for the winter and will get good offers when their contracts
are up. It is not simply a question of money, though neither county has cash to
burn. Players aspiring to a test career these days think (probably with
justification) that they must prove themselves in division one to be taken
seriously. What began as a fissure between the two divisions has become a
chasm. Last year’s promoted teams were both relegated.
I would like to think that
on one of my end-of-season visits to the old country I will see Kent (preferably)
or Gloucestershire win the Championship, but that may not be possible unless
medical science doubles the human lifespan in the next thirty years or so.
But let us live in the
present. I watched cricket at Canterbury, and it was good.
Monday, October 27, 2014
Saturday, October 25, 2014
First, the good news. Scotch eggs—the absence of which triggered the pork pie avalanche of 2013—were abundant on the shelves of the on-ground Sainsbury’s, and no doubt in anticipation of the presence of My Life in Cricket Scorecards, had been placed close to the ground to minimise the risk of slither among the processed meats.
There was a pleasing familiarity about the St Lawrence. For one thing, only a year had elapsed since my last visit. For another, Sky Sport New Zealand has shown almost all the English county cricket broadcast by BSkyB in the UK this season, including several games from Canterbury. Last year I could name fewer than half of the Kent XI as it first took the field; this year my recognition rate was 100%, thanks to technology’s ability to shrink the world.
Gloucestershire captain Alex Gidman won the toss, chose to bat, and would not have expected to be 29 for five after an hour’s play, routed by Darren Stevens and Mitch Claydon, sharing the new ball with a combined run up of 27 paces. Fifteen of these are Stevens’, and they get shorter as he tires passing the umpire. “Mince up” might be convey the experience more accurately. I can’t think of a regular opening pair with such an economy of sole use since John Shepherd and Norman Graham. Like Graham, Claydon uses his height to get lift and has had a good year, finishing with more than 50 wickets. He follows Graham’s admirable approach to the game in other ways, which we will come to.
Another novelty of this partnership is that Stevens stands at first slip for his partner. Opening bowlers in the slips are novelty enough, though there have been a few good ones, most obviously Ian Botham. Mike Hendrick also springs to mind. But I cannot recall any others at first slip. It was here that Stevens got the carnage under way, taking a straightforward catch to remove Dent in the third over.
A residue of damp in the autumn air might have been a factor; the ball appeared to stop a bit and it certainly moved around, as the new ball should. Also, it was one of those days when edges carried and fielders held them. The ball that Gloucestershire’s promising young keeper Roderick edged to second slip reared up too, but there was nothing here to induce any doubt that it is a thoroughly good idea to extend the English county season to the end of September.
Hamish Marshall came in at No 5. I wrote about Hamish often when I was CricInfo’s man in the Northern Districts so it was a pleasure to watch him again, not least because there was no risk of the unwary scribe mistaking him for his identical twin James (or vice versa). The joy was short-lived; Marshall was caught by Northeast at third slip of the back of the bat as tried to steer Stevens through the onside.
Gloucestershire’s pre-lunch recovery was merely relative; three more wickets fell by the interval. Sam Northeast, captain in Rob Key’s absence, kept the opening bowlers going for 22 overs. When Claydon finally got a rest, Tom Smith flailed away in relief at Calum Haggett’s first ball, to be well caught by Northeast in the gully. There was no rest for Stevens, who sauntered in from the Nackington Road End until lunch.
There’s always something new at the cricket. Today it was the sponsorship of the match by a firm of funeral directors, who positioned their limo (filled with balloons, bizarrely enough) on the bank on the hospital side. Given the demographic of the average County Championship crowd, the presence of a funeral car risked instigating unease, especially at the last game of the season when the minds of older spectators turn to whether they will be back next year. As a metaphor for the Gloucestershire innings thus far, it was compelling.
The interval found me carrying out a humanitarian act at the second-hand bookstall. Among the Wisdens sat a pristine 1966 edition. That sounds just what a collector wants, but consider. It was as-new because it had been neglected, for nigh half a century ignored on a shelf or in the back of a cupboard, unable to give out the good news about the second XI averages and Other Matches at Lord’s. Now it is free to shout all this out, sitting on the shelves at My Life in Cricket Scorecards Towers, alongside 52 yellow-jacketed friends.
The Gloucestershire batting was also in better spirits after lunch. The ninth-wicket partnership of Craig Miles and David Payne put on 90 in 24 overs, just on the polite side of tail-end slogging. Some felt that Northeast persisted with the quicker bowlers for too long as the ball became middle-aged.
When Adam Riley was brought on he had Miles caught at long on for 48 and was then hit for six by Payne, coming down the pitch to reach 50. After more merriment from last man Liam Norwell, Gloucestershire were all out for 179, not as many as Gidman envisaged when he won the toss, but a total he would happily have settled for at lunchtime.
James Tredwell did not get a bowl. He has had an odd season, loaned to Sussex for first-class games, but a regular for England in the short forms. Kent rightly give Championship precedence to Adam Riley, already spoken of as a test player of the middle future, but would like to hold on to Tredwell for the limited-overs stuff. The fact that both are offies does not help, especially at Canterbury where the slope makes things difficult from the Pavilion End.
Kent’s top order did only marginally better than Gloucestershire’s, subsiding to 47 for four before Billings and the inevitable Stevens rallied towards the end of the day.
During the final session I watched under lights for the first time at St Lawrence, but only briefly. The lights were switched on at tea as the cloud thickened. They kept the players on for longer than would have been the case, but at the point when the artificial light became stronger than the natural light (which, one might have thought, was their purpose) the regulations demanded that the umpires called a halt. It is probably the case that the ball becomes a shade more difficult to see at this point, just as it was a shade more difficult to play first thing, but this should be regarded as one of the variables that makes the first-class game interesting.
It confounded my Blean correspondent who shelled out the full admission price for very little cricket.