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I first met Martin at the T20 Quarter-Final between Leicestershire and Kent at Grace Road in 2011. This was to be the venue for the inaugural meeting of the Kent Reform Group whose stated aims were to bring greater transparency and accountability to the county club than was felt to be evident at the time.

I arrived first and parked myself at an empty table in the corner of the bar. I was shortly followed by Graham Holland, senior civil servant, former Mayor and prospective Kent County Cricket Club committee member. Graham and I exchanged pleasantries over a glass of sauvignon blanc while we awaited the arrival of the other two core members of the group.

After a quarter of an hour, the double doors swung open to reveal a tall, imposing figure dressed in a green and blue striped blazer with matching tie on a salmon coloured shirt, red slacks, scrubbed brown brogues and a boater sporting the black and Kentish grey colours of the Band of Brothers Cricket Club. He carried over his shoulder a faded brown leather satchel that looked at any moment about to spill its hefty contents. A crumpled packet of cigarettes protruded from the top pocket of the blazer. The only thing that would have completed this curiously Western scene (the meagre population of the bar to a man and woman had turned in his direction), would have been for the stranger to brandish a brace of six shooters from his hip.

Martin Moseling was in the building!

Graham introduced us and we got down to business, though not before Martin had dropped the satchel to the floor and sent the first of what seemed dozens of text messages to the fourth member of the group who had decided at the last minute to remain in Kent.

Throughout that ultimately depressing afternoon, in which Kent contrived to throw away a winning position in intermittent drizzle, he paced up and down replaying every boundary and dismissal by text with the absent colleague watching the game on TV back in his Wealden retreat.

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We met occasionally at cricket over the next twelve months, standing and chatting aimlessly on the Old Dover Road banking or in the Chiesman pavilion for hours on end, only partly conscious of the performance of the “flannelled fools” out in the middle. With that heavy, faded satchel still hanging from one shoulder, Martin would hold court, offering a wealth of historical and technical insights on the game while a growing audience of his peers nodded sagely in response.

It became clear that, despite our political and social differences – he revered Margaret Thatcher and was at home at hunt balls, whereas my political hero was Dennis Skinner and I was more comfortable in tie-dye at a Grateful Dead concert – we still had a lot in common, notably a mutual affection for Kent cricketing history and the “Golden Age” immediately before the Great War in particular. But there was something else we shared, an ambition that had been unfulfilled for more than half a century – that of writing at least one book and getting it published.

But the 2012 season ended and we went our separate ways.

Until, on one dank, dismal December morning, he rang me to ask whether I was interested in writing a book with him on Kent’s 1913 County Championship winning side to commemorate the upcoming centenary. My response – something along the lines of “yeah, why not” – was hardly enthusiastic, but enough for us to spend the next hour scoping out structure, style and themes. We were off and running before my customary eleven o’clock coffee break.

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What had we let ourselves in for? It is difficult enough to write a book on one’s own, but to do it with someone else whom they still barely knew and who lived a hundred and twenty miles away, and had, as we soon discovered, a different writing style, would surely be impossible. But, having agreed a workable division of labour at the outset, we spent the next six months working separately on different chapters and sending drafts to each other before picking up the telephone and painstakingly working through every letter and punctuation mark. We didn’t always see eye to eye, of course – he was over fond of words like “rather” and “somewhat” and I drove him to distraction with my obsession with punctuation – but the system worked.

We spoke many times a day. Martin invariably initiated the discussions, telephoning to urge me to peruse a new draft chapter or an alteration in the design that he had been working on during the night while I was asleep! In fact, he often rang at the most inconvenient times, either just before I was leaving the house or about to cook my wife’s dinner. It became a standing joke between us, rather like the one my wife and I shared when we listened to our daily answerphone messages and heard the immortal phrase “hello Tony, it’s Martin, give me a call”.

We met only three times over that period, twice when I travelled down to the Cotswolds for a couple of days each time and when we made a joint visit to the MCC library at Lord’s from which we witnessed a spectacular snow blizzard envelopping the hallowed ground. I also visited the principal libraries around the county to research the newspapers of the day. This provided us with a great deal of reportage to supplement the official scorecards for each game that were available on the Cricinfo website. But the feature of the published book that received the most plaudits were the contemporary photographs, many of which had not seen the light of day since that fateful final full season before the Great War, that he had sourced from both his own impressive collection and other publications. His contacts in the game, not least in his adopted county of Gloucestershire, provided many priceless images too.  

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Had he not been so persistent, we may never have finished the book. I am eternally grateful to him for not only coming up with the idea but motivating me along the way when my natural indolence took hold (and I like to think I did the same for him).

With the demise of the Kent Reform Group in early 2012, it was clear that the county club was not going to trust offers of assistance or criticism from individuals or members’ groups for the foreseeable future. However, by quiet diplomacy and patient relationship building, Martin was able to extract a number of concessions over the next three years, for example in overturning a ban on fans bringing even a modest amount of alcohol into the grounds for forty over games.

His legacy, however, will be the pivotal role he played in the establishment of the Kent Cricket Heritage Trust. Firstly, virtually single-handedly, he persuaded the Club of the value of creating a trust to protect and promote its proud heritage, and then drove through the implementation. His stunning timeline of the Great War which was displayed in the Chiesman Pavilion during the 2014 Canterbury Week, and the photographic montages of two historic run chases against Gloucestershire and Lancashire, were praised widely. Both were produced at his own expense. He also gave of his own time in keeping a watching eye on cricket auctions around the country, identifying items that the Club might be interested in purchasing.

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The fact that the Kent Cricket Heritage Trust is now established, and there are visible signs around the ground of its work, notably the new display cases in the Chiesman Pavilion, is largely attributable to Martin.

Any doubts that the Club might not have fully appreciated his contribution were quickly dispelled when they flew the official flag (white horse on red background) at half mast at the St Lawrence Ground on the day following his death. I cannot recall this being done for someone who neither played in the first XI (and oh how he wished he could have), nor served on the committee before. Martin would have been humbled and hugely proud of such a gesture.

As testimonials since his untimely passing have illustrated, he was admired and respected for his detailed knowledge of cricketing history, especially during the era covered by A-Half Forgotten Triumph. 

He had a patrician but nonetheless kindly demeanour which gave his utterances on the game an almost Swanton-like character, an impression reinforced by a build that resembled in later years that of the former journalist and president of the county club.

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As “Kentish Exile” he was prolific and authoritative. It was his opinion that many of his fellow posters looked for first on all cricketing issues for a combination of insider understanding and common sense. His style was measured, urbane and often sprayed with references and quotes from history, literature and music. It was this that led one wag from Chatham on the Old Dover Road seating at Canterbury one afternoon to declaim:

That Kentish Exile, ‘e’s a bit upmarket ‘e is.

Martin’s reaction to this statement when I relayed it to him that evening was a customary chuckle. I think he was rather flattered.

Despite his achievements – he was a fine horseman, golfer and guitar player, amongst other talents I may not have discovered in the short time I knew him, in addition to being a good enough cricketer to play not only for the MCC for many years, but also the Band of Brothers, Cross Arrows and a variety of teams in Gloucestershire – he was essentially a modest man. Few of his cricketing acquaintances will be aware that he maintained a blog – entitled A Cricket Sort of Chap: A sideways look at all kinds of cricket but especially the cricket of Kent – in which he brought his wit, wisdom and experience to bear on cricketing issues as diverse as being taken to the Bat and Ball Ground in Gravesend as a small boy by his father, the history of round arm bowling and a series of articles on Kevin Pieterson. I urged him constantly to notify his fellow Kent followers when he had published a new piece, but he preferred to manage it for his own amusement.

I’m afraid I’ve now let the cat out of the bag, but I’m sure he would forgive me as the articles are as good examples of cricket writing as you would find anywhere today,  and cry out to be be read by a wider audience.

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We had spoken of collaborating again in the future and mulled over the worth of writing reappraisals of the life and career of three of the most influential figures of Kent cricket – Frank Woolley, Les Ames and Lord Harris. But I wanted to take a break from cricket writing, not sharing his all-consuming passion for the sport. Before his illness cruelly began to affect his capacity to concentrate, he was working on a book about James Seymour, one of the powerful top order in Kent’s first period of glory. During the writing of our book he had met with the Seymour family who had kindly made a voluminous scrapbook of cuttings, photographs and scorecards available to him. He spoke enthusiastically too of writing a book about the seasons in which Kent finished second in the County Championship (of which there are too many).

On the all too rare days that we watched Kent play together (Martin tended, understandably, to visit the Midlands away grounds more than Kent), he was invariably accompanied by his beloved flat coated retriever, Bear, who he had had for nearly nine years (“the best friend I could ever want”). Bear sadly died in February of last year when Martin wrote “I do not know what I will do without him”. Shortly after, however, he acquired Bear’s nephew, Alfie, and was still in the process of breaking him in and preparing to introduce him to the world of cricket in the near future.

He was immensely proud of his son and daughter, and the successful careers they had carved out for each other, and despite the rapid deterioration in his health, it must have been a joyous occasion to have Emma and Mark and his grandchildren all together at his home.

It is difficult to know how to finish this piece other than to say that I accounted him a friend, not only for his rich well of cricketing anecdotes and knowledge, but also for his wise counsel (something others commented upon in the days following his death). He was not just “a cricket sort of chap”, but someone whose intelligence, humour and understanding ranged across every imaginable subject. He even helped me to make (some) sense of the San Francisco rental market!

But I’ll leave the final words to the man himself:

I have become resigned to the fact that Kent cricket was always in my blood. Although the past few years have been endlessly frustrating, they have also been rewarding. Friendships made within cricket are necessarily transitory but they are enduring. I have re-established contact with people I played with and against 30/40 years ago and I have made new friends. The really great thing about it is that those friends share my love of the greatest game of all – cricket and, in particular, the love of the cricket of the county of Kent.

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With apologies and grateful thanks to the mighty Bob Dylan, I have revised the lyrics of probably his greatest put-down song in honour of the people running Kent County Cricket Club.

You got a lotta nerve to say you run my Kent, now that we’re down you just stand there grinning

You got a lotta nerve to say the money’s been well spent, so why have we a team that’s just not winning?

You say you’re in control, you know it’s not like that, if you’re in control, why then don’t you show it?

You say you’ve got a plan but that’s not where it’s at, you have no plan at all and you know it

You say there is no rush to rebuild our ailing team, why then does our captain think we should do?

Do you take me for such a fool to think we have a side that will compete with other counties like we could do?

You see me on the ground, you always smirk and chat, you say “How are you”, “Good luck”, thanks for your letter

When you know as well as me you’d rather ignore what I say than agree that I can help to make thing better

No, I do not feel that good when I see the mistakes you embrace, along with those two men in crime you’re in with

And now you know that I’m dissatisfied with your performance and your place, can you please find us a team to win with?

I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes, and just for that one moment I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes, all you’d see’s a suit, a grin and no clue.

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You may be familiar with Mr Jingle’s assessment of Kent in The Pickwick Papers: “Kent, sir – everybody knows Kent – apples, cherries, hops and women”. Although the abundance of the first three may have been diminished in recent times (being a happily married man I could not possibly comment on the fourth), this still holds true to a great extent.

An alternative definition that I would subscribe to might be “coast, countryside and cricket”.  It is certainly a triumvirate of glories that make me a proud product of its soil. That pride has been rather dented over the summer months with the dismal displays, both on and off the pitch, of the county cricket club. The cradle of the game, home to some of its greatest ever players and with a tradition of playing cavalier cricket in front of large festival crowds in beautiful surroundings, now reduced to a laughing stock in the cricketing world.

Rising debts, the result of a succession of poor financial decisions, a stalled ground redevelopment programme at its Canterbury headquarters, poor communications with its members and supporters and woeful performances on the field leaving the team second bottom in the county championship, all combined to make the season one of the worst in the modern Club’s distinguished 141 year history.

And in the past few days, the coach and two of the senior batsmen have all departed, leaving the team desperately short of both numbers and experience. With doubts remaining too over whether the player of the season will get the new contract that he deserves, that situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

But in the past week, I have sought solace in some of the county’s many other delights – country walks through the full to bursting apple orchards of haunted Pluckley and the beechwoods and meadows of handsome Harrietsham, a stroll among the bookshops in civilised Tunbridge Wells, and Kentish beer and seafood at the Broadstairs Food Festival, overlooking the packed beach of Viking Bay, basking in the baking October heat and looking like a scene out of the nineteen fifities.

Though I currently live in the “compost heap” of the “Garden of England”, I am no more than an hour and a half, by car, bus or train, from any of its attractions – the castles of Hever, Scotney, Leeds and Rochester, the gardens of Sissinghurst and Emmetts, splendid houses like Groombridge Place, Finchcocks and Knole and what J.M.W Turner called the “loveliest skies in Europe” along the Thanet coast. Throw in two world class animal parks dedicated to conservation, the White Cliffs of Dover, otherworldly Romney Marsh, the rolling North Downs and atmospheric Wealden woodland – the list goes on (my apologies to any favourites of yours that I have missed out).

I count myself lucky in having been born, educated and, after a brief but largely loveless affair with other parts of England, lived in this wonderful county. I’ve been equally fortunate to have grown up hearing and reading  of the exploits of Woolley, Ames and Freeman and watching Cowdrey, Knott and Underwood in their pomp.

But whilst the experience of the cricket, at least at the professional level, has sunk in the past couple of years, there are still those other two features, and much more, to fall back on in the coming months.

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Not with a tear but in anger.

Hopes that the domestic cricket season would, as custom dictates, fade gently away in late summer sunshine at the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury on 15th September 2011 were rudely dashed less than a week before the match when both Kent and visitors Glamorgan agreed to a “request” from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), on behalf of the International Cricket Council (ICC), to trial the use of a pink ball under floodlights, thereby altering the hours of play from 10.30am to 5.30pm to 2pm to 9pm.

Whilst it is not my intention here to report in detail on the game itself, this decision, which Kent CCC neither consulted its membership nor its players about, and which brought with it no additional revenue for the cash-strapped club, destroyed at a stroke the traditional end of season atmosphere of the final match.

After the first three days, all of which had stretched to the scheduled 9pm finish, one the courtesy of a lengthy rain break on the previous afternoon, Kent were once again staring an early and heavy defeat in the face, still 38 behind Glamorgan’s first innings total with just five second innings wickets remaining. An early finish, by lunchtime at 4pm (sic), seemed probable.

But, to the last, Kent contrived to frustrate their supporters by ruining any alternative plans they may have had for the afternoon and evening by providing some rare resistance that resulted in play being prolonged until almost 8pm.

For the third day running, a warm sun, accompanied by a brisk wind, smiled on the St Lawrence at 10.30am when the ground staff were the only people at work on the playing area.  Three and a half hours later when play started, heavier cloud cover prevailed, although the strong winds that had kept temperatures cool throughout the match had receded, giving overdue respite to the swaying trees at the Nackington Road end.

As small groups of spectators expressed their views on the pink ball experiment or described their plans for the winter, many of which revolved around following non-league football teams such as the Tonbridge Angels, Folkestone Invicta and Whitstable Town, the debate that had begun beside the secondhand booksellers’ van on the first morning, that of the most appropriate words to describe the passing of the cricket season (“elegiac”, “wistful” and “russet” were front runners but “melancholic” is making a late move), was still in full flow.

As if aware that this was the final day, the seagulls that had mysteriously abandoned the ground on the first three days had returned, their screeching drowning the scraping of shovels in the area designated for the proposed administration block and retail outlet.  However, the slow, silent extension of the floodlights in preparation for the evening session forced them to retreat to a safe distance to allow the “flannelled fools” to play out their farce before they reclaimed their territory for the next six months.

Fast forward to 4.35pm, five minutes before the end of the “lunch” interval and 59 overs remaining before the end of the season. The resistance primarily of stand in captain Geraint Jones and player of the year Azhar Mahmood has enabled Kent to acquire a lead of 40 runs with three wickets remaining, threatening an unlikely draw.  Even the Glamorgan fielders, who had been eager and demonstrative earlier in the game, have caught the subdued mood of the ground.

Mottled clouds rest peacefully in a largely blue sky where an occasional light aeroplane drones across, rousing spectators momentarily from their slumbers.  I start what might be my last full perambulation of the ground for this year.

The sole recreational game of cricket being played on the outfield relocates to the embankment in front of the Kent Academy building, where I am now passing.  A few spectators shuffle among the recently built houses on the former practice net site, dreaming perhaps of waking up to the evocative sound of bat on ball next spring and those “silly seabirds” complaining that their residency is about to be challenged again.

School has been out for more than an hour now and a vigorous football match is underway on the all-weather pitch alongside the Academy building.  The shouts of teenage boys sporting Premier league replica shirts occasionally interrupt the eerie silence. Committee men suddenly make themselves visible after a season of skulking in their bunker or not turning up at all.

The Cornwallis Room in the Colin Cowdrey Stand is reopened following an unpardonably arranged private function that has driven most of  the regulars away, probably the first – and only – day of the season that they have not attended. As the catering staff prepare for the next function, an elderly Welsh couple wander into the room and settle into seats behind the large picture window to continue their respective crossword and sudoku puzzles, only occasionally looking up to remark on a change in the bowling.  Beneath the window, the lone resident of the outside seating devours his second cheese and pickle sandwich.

I saunter into the Chiesman Pavilion where wall mounted televisions show the remainder of the domestic cricket season coming to its natural and more timely conclusion at Taunton where Lancashire clinch their first county championship outright since 1934.  I join the booksellers who have already put their bookcases away for the last time in witnessing this welcome spectacle. Lancashire may be a “big club” with the advantages of a test match ground, but with few star players, their achievement has been borne out of teamwork and determination as much as talent, a lesson to other counties including my own.

I wonder how many in the paltry crowd are actually paying attention as the “run-stealers flicker to and fro” and a “ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost”.  Kent are finally dismissed in their second innings for 312, leaving the Welsh county just 127 to win at around three runs per over.

The agony is prolonged further when, after just a handful of overs in the Glamorgan innings, the players shuffle off the field again for tea (or is it supper, I still haven’t quite worked out the new terminology spawned by this game).  Any hopes of the game being washed out in the final session are dispelled as the evening is set fair and the floodlights show off their undoubted brilliance.

The inevitability of yet another crushing defeat in Kent’s worst season since the 1950s (finishing bottom of the county championship in 1995 was, at least, assuaged by winning the AXA Equity & Law Sunday League), sees more spectators drifting away whilst others on the Old Dover Road terracing turn to the bottle and gallows humour to keep out the cold.  A lone soul, who has somehow mistaken the scene for a T20 game, lets out a mournful “Come on Kent”.  Even the handful of dogs that have snoozed contentedly beneath their owners’ chairs all season, are shivering and casting sorrowful glances, denoting their desire to return to that nice cozy seat in the back of the car.  They too wish the season would end now, at its customary time.

Escaping to the Leslie Ames Stand for warmth and a final cappuccino, I observe office and security staff, released from their labours, having an end of season drink at the bar, no doubt  washing from their mouths both the dust that has pervaded the ground all summer and the sour taste that has been left by on and off field events.

As Glamorgan approach their target, I gravitate towards the “ladies annexe”, renamed the Underwood and Knott stand in Canterbury Week, for the last rites, though not before being afforded the “historic” privilege of fielding the pink ball as it hurdles the advertising boards and rests in my hands, as if mocking me for being so sad as to be here at all at this ungodly hour.

As the players, weary and a little bemused, leave the field at 8pm, there are around 50 spectators and officials to greet them with “soundless clapping”.  One immaculately dressed elderly gentlemen, who only two days previously had told a packed members’ meeting with the Chairman and Chief Executive, that although he was a Yorkshireman, he was a lifelong Kent fan, shouts “well done Kent”, sentiments whilst no doubt heartfelt, would hardly be reciprocated by the large majority of Kent fans during this wretched season. As we shake hands he tells me excitedly that he fills the non-cricketing months of the year playing bowls and watching hockey.  His enthusiasm and optimism only deepen my gloom.

And that is it – a cold, dark and deeply unsatisfactory ending. There is no time to prise onself slowly and reluctantly from the the scene, taking regular backward glances, as one would have done in the lengthening shadows of the late afternoon.  No time to say a leisurely goodbye to friends that you will not see for another seven months.  No time to have one final drink and contemplate the highlights of the season (yes, there were some).  No time to savour that bittersweet feeling that always accompanies loss.

Only time to check those evening bus and train timetables or face a long drive home.

At least the seagulls will be happy.

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If you read my earlier article entitled “A Short Trip to the Oval”, you will be aware that I cannot resist a tense last hour or so of a county championship cricket match.  So it was last week when, after just two days of the scheduled four day match between Kent and Essex at the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury, the visitors were 180 for 9, only 64 ahead of their hosts with one wicket left. With the weather set fair for the day and despite the fact that the pitch was later described as “poor” by the English Cricket Board (ECB), who imposed an eight point penalty upon Kent, the odds were very heavily on a third successive home win.

I arrived on the ground at 9.40 to find John Jamieson and Tony Pigott  from the English Cricket Board (ECB) still conducting what must have been approaching the longest pitch inspection in cricket history (Jamieson had been present at the ground since the start of the match 48 hours earlier).  The players from both sides were already going through their cricket related preparations before embarking upon the more popular – and dangerous – games of football, the Kent version of which proved the downfall of spinner James Tredwell who was unable to field on the resumption of play an hour later.

The popular book selling father and son partnership of David and Keith Summerfield were still on the ground, having been thwarted (at least initially) in their dash to Hove by a flat battery on their van.  The prompt attendance of the fourth emergency service, however, enabled them to get away with a sporting chance of reaching the south coast in time for the first ball of the day, although it meant that neither could we have our customary early morning discussion on the state of play in the match (and the world for that matter), nor could I purchase the two Neville Cardus books I had spied on the previous day.  Saved from myself I suppose – but there’s always next week!

The Club, to its credit, had let people in free, given the likelihood of the game finishing before lunch. It was a glorious morning, fit to adorn a full day’s cricket in front of what transpired to be a decent crowd, boosted by healthy hospitality numbers (the conclusion of the game on the previous evening, which had still been a distinct possibility in the late afternoon, would have been a financial and  promotional headache for the club’s Chief Executive, Jamie Clifford.

Unfortunately, Jonesy’s Kitchen in the newly and tastefully refurbished Leslie Ames Stand (which a few months before had been ripe for demolition) was only serving bacon rolls for breakfast, but an almost full lunch menu was on offer, although with the game finishing at 12.25, I doubt that many spectators would have stayed to enjoy it.

The entry of the Kent side, led by stand-in captain Geraint Jones, onto the field of play finally put paid to the pitch inspectors’ peering and scraping, and prompted the announcer to ask the “ladies and gentlemen” populating the outfield (actually two small boys and a young girl playing catch) to “vacate”.

David Balcombe, on loan from Hampshire, made short work of  Tom Craddock, inducing him to snick a wide, lifting delivery into the captain’s gloves to leave Kent with just 70 runs to win. James Foster, the Essex captain, remained unbeaten, one short of a deserved half century – he has, along with Joe Denly and Jones, looked the most accomplished batsman on show. With memories of David Masters’s recent eight wicket haul in the final innings at Southend fresh in their minds, Kent supporters were viewing the “chase”, if a run rate of  little over a third of a run per over could be called that, with expectation and anxiety in equal measure. Yet it was Graham Napier, whose contributions with both bat and ball on the first two days had been pitiful, bowling from the Nackington Road End where Balcombe had taken his ten wicket haul, who was the main threat, bowling with real pace and extracting considerable bounce. It was a short ball that claimed the wicket of the just 18 year old Daniel Bell-Drummond on his Championship debut, who played a hook far too early, resulting in the ball looping to cover for a simple catch. Little was expected of Sam Northeast and he lived down to those expectations by being caught plumb in front to a ball that kept rather low from Napier.

Replicating his recent form, Denly had looked comfortable, scoring 17 of the first 18 runs with two thumping fours and a Darren Stevens-like six over extra cover, before being adjudged lbw to another one that kept low, this time from Masters. 18 for 3 and alarm bells were ringing. To make matters worse, Martin van Jaarsveld almost immediately pulled up and called for a runner.

In view of the still small number of runs needed, it might have been wise for him to have left the field at this point, to return only if absolutely necessary – staying out there and playing a number of violent shots thereafter, one of which cleared the square leg boundary, cannot have helped the groin injury that had been sustained before his innings apparently.  He was also shortly afterwards hit on the helmet by another rising delivery from the fiery Napier. I suspect that his pride, and anxiety to finish the job, which, with the captain’s brilliant cameo, he did, took over at this point. Bell-Drummond, who had probably not even taken his pads off at this stage, returned to do van Jaarsveld’s running for him (not that he needed to do much). Stevens’s poor Championship season continued when he snicked Napier to Foster to leave the home side at 35-4.

But our increasing fears at this point were unfounded as Captain Jones, in keeping with the Corporal of the same name in Dad’s Army, did not panic, but rather played half a dozen crashing shots (five drives and a pull) to the boundary in, I think, just eight balls, to herald a six wicket victory. Now what had all the fuss been about? Brief as it was (just 14 balls), it was reminiscent of his sensational Canterbury Week century against Somerset last year. It is heartening that he has found some form at the back end of the season because he is such a popular and committed player. It is reported that he doesn’t want the captaincy, either in the one or four (did I say four?) day formats beyond the end of this season. As we know, he has demanding commitments off the field as well as on it, and his position is, therefore, understandable. But if, despite Director of Cricket, Paul Farbrace’s protestations to the contrary at the Club Forum on the previous evening, Rob Key does call it a day, either in one day only or all cricket, Jones would get my vote. But that’s for the future.

Don’t let the eight points deduction for a poor pitch detract from another impressive performance by a Kent side that had the odds stacked against them when Essex won the toss. The batting of Jones (in both innings), Denly and Tredwell was as good as it has been all year, and Balcombe bowled with genuine pace, bounce and accuracy – he would be an outstanding acquisition for next season, but perhaps existing contractual arrangements and the rise in his stock in the Hampshire and wider county scene that his loan spell at Kent has engendered, might prove too great an obstacle.

So at 12.25pm, with the blue sky and warm sun still smiling on the ground, we all went home – well, those of us who weren’t being wined and dined with no tiresome distractions such as cricket in the Harris Room and Leslie Ames Stand hospitality boxes.

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Below is my report of the first day’s play in the LV County Championship game between Kent and Middlesex at the St Lawrence Ground, Canterbury on Wednesday 17th August 2011.

Rob Key, returning to the Kent side after sitting out the two recent CB40 matches nursing his troublesome wrist injury, won the toss on a bright morning at the St Lawrence Ground and elected to bat. Azhar Mahmood, fresh from his all-round heroics the night before in the thrilling CB40 win over the same opponents, replacing the injured Simon Cook, was the only change in the Kent team that had beaten Surrey equally impressively in the Championship game of Canterbury Week.

Openers Key and Joe Denly played watchfully against the accurate opening attack of Murtagh and Collymore, both of whom extracted some bounce and a little movement.  The opening 11 overs brought just 13 runs, with the only boundary coming from an edge by Denly between third slip and gully. Only when Crook replaced Collymore did Denly open up with two expansive back foot drives through the off side for successive boundaries.

Despite his excellent recent form in the four day game, Key struggled in particular, playing and missing on several occasions. When he did play his first shot in anger – a handsome cover drive – it was brilliantly fielded. 

The predominantly blue skies gave way to an off white cloud cover that began to provide more assistance for the Middlesex seamers.  Crook was unlucky when he induced Denly to snick two deliveries past third slip for four, though the opener followed this with two further boundaries with sumptuous straight and off drives off Collymore. The introduction of the Middlesex captain, Neil Dexter, into the attack was greeted by Denly with two more powerful drives through extra cover and mid off.

Key continued to struggle, particularly against Collymore, finally edging an outswinger to Malan at first slip for 17 with the score at 61. Sam Northeast, fresh from his mature fifty in the previous evening’s match, started in confident mood, but was caught behind by Simpson off Crook shortly before lunch for 3, leaving Kent 71 for 2. Denly responded with a cover drive off the same bowler to bring up a fine half century, and Kent went to lunch at 77 for 2.

A highly entertaining afternoon session brought 165 runs and 8 wickets.  Martin van Jaarsveld, who had failed to score in the CB40 match, made just two before being caught behind off Crook with the score at 83.  Denly followed just four runs later when he was given out, perhaps a little unluckily again, leg before to Tim Murtagh for a fine 55.

Darren Stevens and Geraint Jones steadied the ship with a stand of 45, mostly by virtue of expansive drives, before the latter was adjudged leg before to Collymore for 26.  The hero of the previous evening, Mahmood, joined Stevens but anxious to get off the mark off his first ball, he failed to get back in his crease in time to beat the bowler Collymore’s javelin-like throw. 

Kent were now 132 for 6, which soon became 155 for 8 as, firstly, Stevens played tamely onto his stumps off Dexter for 27 and Ball edged Collymore to Dalrymple at second slip for 8. James Tredwell and Matt Coles added a breezy 57 for the ninth wicket with a series of thumping drives and judicious sweeps befpre Tredwell became the second player to chop onto his stumps off Collymore for 31.

Wahab Riaz’s arrival at the wicket placed Coles in the unfamiliar role of senior batsman, and he appeared to take that responsibility seriously by advising the Pakistani international that he should curb his natural game whilst he was left to play his shots.  In fact, Riaz acquitted himself well, even contributing equally to a final wicket stand of 30.  He was left 17 not out when Coles, much to his and the crowd’s disappointment, pulled Murtagh to the mid wicket boundary nine short of what would have been a deserved fifty, a fitting achievement for what was probably his most mature innings in the Championship side. 

Kent were all out for 242, falling eight short of a second batting point.  Collymore was the pick of the Middlesex bowlers, taking 4 for 69 whilst Murtagh and Crook both took two wickets.  Tea was taken at this point.

Middlesex began their innings with 31 overs remaining in the day, and a very late finish on the cards. However, increased cloud cover and slight drizzle called a halt to their innings after just 13 overs at a relatively untroubled 55 for no wicket, 187 behind the home side.  Robson, who had been the main aggressor, was 37 not out and his partner, Newman, 16 not out at the close.

The state of play at the end of the first day is almost identical to the previous week’s match against Surrey when Kent made 266 and their adversaries proceeded comfortably to 50 for no wicket.   Largely by virtue of Darren Stevens’s career best bowling figures of 7-21, Kent skittled Surrey out for 127 the next morning and went on to win by a massive 265 runs following a second collapse by the visitors on the third afternoon in very poor light.

Away from the action on the field, the  day’s highlight was undoubtedly the continuing, and largely unwitting, entertainment provided by the Club’s new tannoy announcer.  Having jettisoned the bizarre “bowled lbw” form of dismissal, he still delights by telling us about changes in the bowling AFTER they have taken place, often prefacing it “as you may have already noticed”!  And it would appear that Middlesex now have three members of the Murtagh family in their side, as today their bowling attack included Tim, Timothy and even James!

Footnote: Despite the unpromising position that Kent found themselves at the end of this first day, they went on to secure another impressive win over promotion-chasing Middlesex by 65 runs on the last evening.

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On a baking early August day I took in my first day’s play of Kent second XI cricket for many years against Glamorgan at Mote Park in Maidstone.  It was an equally belated return to “the Mote” which, since 2005 when the county was, unjustly, deducted eight points by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for a sub-standard pitch, had not hosted first class cricket.  My sense of anticipation was twofold – an opportunity to see a number of highly regarded young Kent players in action for the first time, and to reacquaint myself with the ground that has always been second only to the Nevill at Tunbridge Wells in my affections.

As I walked up Mote Road, with my right shoulder creaking under the weight of my new holdall bulging with laptop, notebooks, Kent CCC annuals and food, but rendered even heavier by the purchase of three cricket books in the Oxfam bookshop in town, I was saddened, if not altogether surprised, to see that The Cricketers pub was up for sale, a shame as it had often been a handy retreat during the lunch intervals in the past.

My initial impression on entering the ground was that it seemed in remarkably good health (it is still the home to cricket, rugby and squash clubs). The lovely two-storey pavilion, a recent centenarian, looked resplendant with its tiled roof and handsome black and white gable, hanging baskets and recent paint job.  On closer inspection, however, the facilities inside clearly needed substantial upgrading to meet the demands of the modern professional game. 

Alongside the pavilion stands “the Tabernacle”, described by George Plumptre in his book, Homes of Cricket – the First-Class Cricket Grounds of England and Wales as “one of the most delightful curiosities to be found on any county ground”. 

It had been built by the Mote’s most prominent patron, (Sir) Marcus Samuel in the style of “an ornamental cottage with herringbone pattern brickwork and a covered verandah in front”.  Originally Marcus’s private pavilion in which to entertain his well connected friends, it had latterly become a temporary office for the county club during the traditional week, as well as a suitably imposing structure from which “the brethren” the Band of Brothers Cricket Club could sit and watch the game.

Today, it was a dusty shell, though it was heartening to note from the contractors’ awning that a significant makeover was imminent, perhaps a further indication that the local authority and club were making necessary ground improvements in preparation for the resumption of county cricket in the next few years, a “consummation devoutly to be wished” by this supporter.  

The mature trees, primarily oaks, encircling the ground were magnificent as always and the new fence at the bottom end, whilst plain and rustic, gave it a neat appearance.

Entering the pavilion in pursuit of a scorecard, I saw a sight I wasn’t expecting – Daniel Bell-Drummond helping himself to a fruit juice.  A dashing opening batsman, the 17 year old from Millfield School is being touted as a star of the future, and had already been scoring attractive runs in the England Under 19 team.  It had not been expected that he would be released from an international boot camp to play today, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Salivating at the prospect of watching him and 18 year old Fabian Cowdrey, the latest in the distinguished Kentish cricketing dynasty, open the innings and rattle up 150 before lunch, the news from Daniel that Glamorgan had won the toss and elected to bat was deflating – my hopes raised and ruthlessly dashed in the space of thirty seconds! 

Although Kent sported an experienced attack,  it already felt like it would be a day of toil for Kent players and spectators alike, which it subsequently proved (Glamorgan were 287 for 5 at tea when the combination of heat and desultory action persuaded me to leave).

The outstanding moment from the Kent perspective was a stunning leg side stumping by 20 year old Sam Billings off Simon Cook. Billings is yet another prospect in what might (everything is crossed) develop into a “golden generation” for the county.  Already being “billed” as Kent’s best wicketkeeper since the mercurial Alan Knott, he also proved the chief cheerleader in a side that was vocally encouraging of each other all day, impressive given the humd conditions and very different from the deathly hush that falls over the first team for long intervals in the field.

The size of the crowd, a number of whom appeared to follow the second XI to the exclusion of the full county side, probably did not reach 100, with smatterings in the pavilion, alongside the tabernacle, under the great oak tree and on the top of the ground, many sitting in their parked cars in chairs bought from the local garden centre. 

I had not known what to expect when I arrived, particularly as far as catering was concerned.  Whilst I had bought my own food I was worried whether I would be able to get a drink at all, hence my delight, half an hour after play had commenced, to see the bar open and the Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay handpump hove into view.  A couple of gorgeous pints of that helped to counteract the stifling heat.

There was a quaintness about proceedings that belied the intense endeavour of young men striving in stifling heat to use their undoubted talent to forge a career in the game.  This was epitomised by the hilarious sight, every half an hour or so when the umpires called for a drinks break, of two small boys, the sons of the former Kent player and now part-time coach, Mark Ealham, with a combined age of no more than the number on the back of Kent captain Alex Blake’s shirt (10), bounding onto the field carrying hefty trays of cold concoctions that must have weighed at least as much as their bearers.  Priceless!

It is a pity that there are now no more home second XI games this season because I think I’m hooked!  Oh, and I do hope that the club and the local council can get their act together and bring first team county cricket to this beautiful ground that was, after all, Colin Cowdrey’s favourite.

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