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That may not strictly be true.

But it’s how it should work out.

The majority of my summer holidays between the ages of ten and eighteen (when I became too cool to hang on to my parents’ swimsuit tails) were spent in the once fashionable seaside resort of Folkestone in Kent, a seagull’s glide along the coast from the fabled White Cliffs of Dover.

Although there was only one small, inevitably packed, patch of sandy beach along its largely pebble and shingle seafront, the magnificent Rotunda amusement arcade, fringed by fairground rides, putting green,  boating lake and swimming pool, kept a young boy and his cousins handsomely entertained for two weeks every August.

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Just occasionally, the vacation coincided with cricket at the Cheriton Ground where the county team hosted opponents from what appeared then to be exotic, distant places named Derbyshire and Northamptonshire.  My parents would install me in the stand around 10am and go off to do whatever it was they did while, equipped with sandwiches, suncream and scorebook, I drooled over the godlike exploits of Cowdrey, Knott and Underwood. The sun always seemed to shine and Kent always seemed to win, though I’m not convinced that the history books would corroborate either assertion.

But I don’t care – I was in Heaven.

In the absence of cricket I could be found staggering around the bracing pitch and putt golf course on the windswept cliffs overlooking the small but bustling harbour, where saucers of fresh cockles and whelks were in abundant supply. If the cliff top links seemed too challenging, a round of crazy golf could be had on The Stade, the narrow strip of land between harbour and sandy beach. The family that ran our bed and breakfast, who went by what, to a ten year old in 1963 (and probably one in 2016 too), was the hysterically funny name of Clutterbuck, owned the shop at the beach end.

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Finally, there was a daily ferry service to Boulogne-sur-Mer in Northern France, where I spent my first day abroad. Unfortunately, my recollections of a youthful life on the ocean wave have more to do with leaning over the side of the boat than tucking into a full English breakfast in the café. It was a few more years, therefore, before I could indulge in what became lifelong passions for Brie and Roquefort cheese and French wine.

Folkestone may not have enjoyed the cheeky, “kiss me quick” ambience of Margate or Southend, but I loved its quieter, more refined atmosphere. My parents even spoke on occasion of retiring to the resort but, sadly, it never happened – and with my father’s recent death, never will. I’m comforted, however, by the thought that the last break they shared together was in their favourite location.

And now my wife and I have, or will soon have, means, motive and opportunity to live that dream ourselves. We have been frequent visitors to Folkestone and the neighbouring Kentish seaside towns of Margate, Ramsgate, Broadstairs, Deal and Whitstable in recent years, and enjoy each one for its particular attractions and atmosphere.

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When it became apparent that my father’s life might be approaching its end, I asked her which resort she would like to make her home should circumstances one day permit. To my surprise and delight she replied, without hesitation, “Folkestone”.

So now we have the small task of selling two homes in Medway and buying a property on the coast. It is a slightly daunting, but undeniably, exciting prospect. It might be fanciful to think that, by mid to late summer, we will be opening our curtains and shouting “bonjour” to our French neighbours across the English channel every morning.

But it won’t be for want of trying – even foreign holidays this year might need to take a back seat.

So, apart from the obvious charms that childhood still weaves, what is it that lures us to Folkestone?

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After all, the past forty years have seen the town, in common with many other resorts around the British coastline, decline dramatically as a holiday destination as people took advantage of greater leisure time and resources to travel further afield. The rotunda and surrounding attractions were demolished, the lively, cobbled Old High Street that winds up to the modern town centre fell into disrepair and many of the businesses dependent upon holidaymakers closed.

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Gone were many of the shops selling postcards, beach balls and buckets and spades. Gone were the traditional tea rooms and fish and chip restaurants. And gone was the shop with the big picture window at the top of the Old High Street through which children and adults alike gaped in awe at sticks of Folkestone rock being made.

But, with extensive investment, there have been signs in recent years that Folkestone is beginning to stir again. The Old High Street has undergone a makeover. One of a kind gift shops, artisanal food stores and galleries, and attractive restaurants have emerged, along with a burgeoning artistic community.

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There may no longer be any cross-channel services, and the former harbour railway station may, for now, remains overgrown with weeds, but the town’s accessibility from London and the rest of the county has been enhanced by the arrival of a high speed rail service. And, of course, it is home to the Channel Tunnel and the swiftest escape to the continent.

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The East Cliff beach has been re-branded Sunny Sands and is as rammed with humanity as ever on a warm day. There are few better places to play beach cricket when the tide is out.

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And, last summer, the Harbour Arm, after years of abandonment, re-opened for several weekends with music, food and drink decorating its bracing promenade, providing “new” thrilling vistas back across the harbour. Currently closed for the winter, it is scheduled to resurface full time in May 2016.

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Our permanent residence could not have been better timed.

The jewel in Folkestone’s crown remains the Leas, once described as “indisputably the finest marine promenade in the world”, a wide clifftop walk with well tended flower beds and glorious views across the channel. Imposing old hotels speak of the resort’s former glory, no more so than the Grand and Metropole, though some are now holiday apartments. The Leas Cliff Hall is a popular stopping off point for musicians and comedians on tour. I will never forget a long and hilarious night with Frankie Howerd there back in the late sixties.

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On a clear day, you can almost pick out individual buildings on the French coast as you head towards the charming neighbouring resorts of Sandgate and Hythe with its access to the world class attractions of Port Lympne Wild Animal Park and the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, still the smallest regular light rail system in the world and as thrilling a ride more than a half a century later than the first. At the end of the line, you arrive at Dungeness on the tip of Romney Marsh with its end of the world atmosphere, where the abundant birdlife shares the shingle with two nuclear power stations .

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Despite the loss of the ferry service and crazy golf course, as well as the diminution in the fishing trade, the pretty little harbour and adjoining Stade with its seafood stalls still retain some of the atmosphere that first captivated me fifty years ago.

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The Guardian newspaper recognised the efforts being made to enhance Folkestone’s appeal by rating it among the world’s best holiday destinations to visit in 2014. Many, especially those who have not visited in recent years, will snigger or even guffaw at the idea, but the town is showing signs that it has a future.

We might even put you up while you visit!

Now, if they could only rebuild the Rotunda and resume playing first class county cricket there ………….

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(more…)

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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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Born in October 1952 on the day tea rationing ended in Britain (good timing that, given my mother’s obsession – and subsequently mine – with the brew) and, as an only child, I enjoyed a happy childhood, revolving mainly around football and cricket.  I had the good fortune of growing up during the sixties, the music of which provided a thrilling soundtrack to my that period.

I attained a BA (Honours) in English and European Literature at Essex University, writing my dissertation on the novel At Swim-Two-Birds by Irish novelist and journalist Flann O’Brien.  This was followed by studying towards an MA in Anglo-Irish Literature at Leeds, majoring on James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and W.B.Yeats, including writing a treatise on the novels of Patrick Kavanagh (The Green Fool and Tarry Flynn).

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Eventually, I exchanged academia – via portering in a major department store and “making” sultana cookies and other exotic (for the time) biscuits – for the last refuge of the modern scoundrel and joined the UK civil service in March 1980.  I subsequently spent 29 years in the Department for Work and Pensions and its many antecedents, latterly in human resources and diversity before poaching early retirement in March 2009.

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My interest in the subject led me to undertake a Level 3 BTEC Advanced Certificate in Travel and Tourism via home learning.  I completed the course in December 2010, achieving a Distinction in all three elements – understanding the travel and tourism industry, tourist destinations and tour operations.  My ambition now is to concentrate on writing and, hopefully, to publish on a regular basis.  I have been focusing principally on my passions of San Francisco, cricket and travel, though I am not able to resist on pontificating on life in general from time to time.

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This blog has now been active for nearly two and a half years. But I want to do more than that. At present, I am in the final throes of co-writing a book on the centenary of Kent County Cricket Club’s fourth County Championship title in eight years, and future writing projects include a series of short stories based in San Francisco and an expansion of our U.S. road trip diary of September / October last year.

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Aside from the above topics, my other serious interests are walking, skiing, baseball (a fan from afar of the San Francisco Giants), association football (a life long fan of Gillingham), music (principally folk, blues, country and West Coast rock borne of the original Summer of Love in 1967), going to the theatre and eating out.

I feel extremely grateful to have the health and energy to pursue all of those interests, as I am also for the support and encouragement of my wonderful wife Janet whom I married in Vegas on Halloween 2009 after 27 years together (that makes it 31 now!).

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Although the county championship season does not start for another fortnight (sic), and the squad may still not be quite finalised, the commencement of domestic cricket at Beckenham tomorrow with a one day friendly against Middlesex might seem an opportune moment to speculate how well prepared Kent County Cricket Club are for the coming season.

The Close Season

Much has happened since that last grubby pink ball was despatched to the extra cover boundary at an eerie and chilly St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury at 8 o’clock in the middle of September.

Firstly, former coach, Paul Fabrace, paid the price for the team’s pitiful 2011 LV County Championship campaign, when they were only spared the wooden spoon by Leicestershire, and had one of their worst seasons since the days when Queen Victoria was looking forward to her Diamond Jubilee. In one of “life’s little ironies” as Thomas Hardy referred to them, Kent’s first competitive game of the season is a trip to Headingley on Maundy Thursday to face his new employers.

Farbrace has been replaced as “Head Coach” (rather than “Director of Cricket”, the title he held), by former West Indians batsman and captain, Jimmy Adams, an appointment that has been met with cautious optimism amongst the county’s followers and considerable enthusiasm in the dressing room.

Two of the club’s most experienced batsmen, Joe Denly and Martin van Jaarsveld, also departed for newly promoted Middlesex and South Africa respectively, the former to play Division One cricket and further his stalled England ambitions, and the latter to play out the rest of his career in his home country, where he hoped to recapture the form that had largely deserted him in his final season at Canterbury.  Recent reports indicate that the move is proving a success.

In addition, the county released infuriating and injury prone quick bowler, Robbie Joseph and former England U-19 batsman, James Goodman, left first class cricket altogether to attend university before pursuing a business career.

 

Overseas player(s)

Australian born West Indian test player, Brendan Nash, will be the overseas player for the entire season. The 34 year old will certainly add some steel and dependability to the middle order in the championship side, and is already in form with a double century for Jamaica against Guyana just four weeks ago, but it is difficult to envisage him strengthening the batting in the T20 competition, having played just one game in that format in his career and not even making it to the crease (though he did execute a run out!). 

Adams has expressed hope that there is still room for at least one other, more dynamic, player for the T20 campaign in the budget, although the Club’s management appear to be less enthusiastic. That said, that was the thinking at this time last year when the Club insisted that they would manage without an overseas player in that competition, and then proceeded to make what some felt were panic signings in Wahab Riaz and Charl Langeveldt.

Given that there are less T20 group matches this year, with the consequent loss of revenue, it is crucial that the Club strives to secure the services of a “name” player (or two), not only to encourage spectators through the turnstiles, but also to increase the chances of the side progressing past the group stage, a goal that would, at present, seem challenging.

 

Batting

Following Denly and van Jaarsveld’s departures, Chairman George Kennedy, promised that the savings accrued would be reinvested in “established international batsmen”. Whilst with 21 tests under his belt, Nash may fit that bill, supporters have been rather underwhelmed by the signings of Glamorgan veteran, Mike Powell, and 32 year old left handed opener, Scott Newman, the former on a permanent contract and the latter initially on a two month loan, ironically determined to use the experience to regain his place at the top of the Middlesex order usurped by Denly. Both men have indicated that they have a point to prove to the “former” employers, which, it is hoped, will work to Kent’s advantage.

Ben Harmison, younger brother of Ashes winning fast bowler, Steve, has also moved from Durham where he had become surplus to requirements. After a century on his first class debut in 2006, he has largely underachieved and it is hoped that the move will resurrect, or rather kick start, his career. In fact, it is unclear at this stage whether he is a genuine all-rounder, a bowler who bats a bit or a batsmen who bowls a bit. It will be interesting to watch how he adapts to his new county. By all accounts, Adams was impressed with him on the trip to Antigua, which augurs well, but this is a big season for him.

That phrase – “this is a big season for” – could, in fact, be applied to several Kent players, none more so than 22 year old Sam Northeast, the schoolboy prodigy who had a mediocre 2011, largely batting at number 3 in the LVCC, though he did show some aptitude as the “enforcer” in the one day side. At the end of the season, perhaps surprisingly, he only signed a one year contract, indicating that he wanted evidence of Kent’s ambition before committing himself to something more long term. This irritated some supporters who felt that it was not only putting himself under more pressure than necessary, but, should he have a stellar 2012, would be enabling him to secure a longer term contract at a more fashionable county at the end of the season.

Another of the home-grown players who needs to start converting his undoubted talent into big runs is 23 year old Alex Blake. His century at Headingley on what proved to be the penultimate day of the 2010 season as Kent were relegated from the LVCC Division One, appeared to herald great things in the future. However, apart from an impressive 96 at The Oval, when he was run out by number 11, Ashley Shaw, a combination of injury and injudicious shots early in his innings, blighted his season in 2011. Now he has completed his studies at Bradford University, and is available for the full season, the powerful left hander has the opportunity to cement his place in the top / middle order. If he succeeds, his “stand and deliver” style will be highly entertaining to watch. 

With Geraint Jones’s batting suffering a (hopefully temporary) decline in 2011, there were calls for Sam Billings, who had impressed in the one day game, not least for his brilliant boundary fielding (ironic given that he is the second choice wicketkeeper), to be blooded in the LVCC side. Jones’s natural desire to play every game, and Rob Key’s wrist injury calling for an opener as replacement, the slot went to exciting England U-19 opener Daniel Bell-Drummond. Billings will be at Loughborough University, where he is captain, until July, but his time will surely come.  Bell-Drummond is more likely to be a regular in the one day side this season and 20 year old Chris Piesley, whose appearances in the LVCC side in 2011 were traumatic, may need to wait this chance, as will Fabian Cowdrey.

Darren Stevens also had a modest time with the bat in the four day game in 2011 and, in fact, displayed his match winning talents more often as a deadly medium pace bowler. It may only be speculation that that had a detrimental effect on his ability to occupy the crease for a long time, but it might still be better not to over rely on him as a stock bowler in 2012.

Despite being expected to concentrate on one day cricket, veteran Pakistani, Azhar Mahmood headed both the county’s first class batting and bowling averages. The decision to finally give him his head and allow him to bat at first wicket down in the T20 competition, proved inspirational as he was a revelation, carrying that form into his late season LVCC innings further down the order. It is not fanciful to think that, as the amount of bowling he is able to do inevitably diminishes, he could hold down a place as a front line batsman. 

The lynchpin of the batting, as it has been for the past dozen years, should be the captain, Rob Key, who displayed, before his wrist injury terminated his 2011 season prematurely, signs of high class, most dramatically in his almost match winning innings at The Oval. If he can remain injury free and resist the lure of a full time media career, he can make a lot of runs for Kent for many years yet.

If Stevens and Jones can recreate their form of previous seasons, Northeast showcase his talent on a more consistent basis, both Powell and Nash provide solidity in the middle order, and the captain bat like he did in the period leading up to his injury in 2011, the lineup could deliver big runs. But that is no guarantee. Last season, the county boasted arguably the most experienced top six on the circuit, yet persistently underachieved.    

 

Seam bowling

The spearhead of the four day attack in 2011, Hampshire loanee, David Balcombe has returned to his parent county, leaving the pace bowling department looking particularly threadbare. The paucity of experienced medium fast bowlers even led Kent to re-sign veteran Simon Cook when, for most of the late summer and autumn, it had looked that his Kent career was over.

That “big season” tag could also apply to 21 year old Matt Coles. An enthusiastic trier, he looked genuinely quick at times last season and earned himself a call-up to the Potential England Performance Programme in India, from whence he joined the England Lions tour as of Sri Lanka as replacement for Stuart Meaker. He is also a powerful left-handed batsmen and could yet become a genuine all-rounder.

Supporters will hope that Balcombe’s exploits will be replicated this year by 6 feet 7 inches Cornishman, Charlie Shreck, who signed after nine solid years at Nottinghamshire. Whilst Cook might be a bit part player, rather than the reliable “go to” bowler of previous years, much is expected of England U-19 captain, Adam Ball, whose left arm seamers impressed in 2011, especially in the T20 competition. He also looks a compact, orthodox batsman, but can clear the boundary when the occasion demands. 

Although he can no longer be expected to bowl long spells, there remain few more canny seamers in the game than Azhar Mahmood, particularly “at the death” in one day games. It is likely, and probably prudent, that the burden upon him be lessened, if for no other reason than that it will allow him to build on his resurgent batting. Twenty year old left armer Ashley Shaw has produced some high class spells of swing bowling, but his persistent shin splints problem threatens to hamper his progress. Young quicks, Ivan Thomas and Ben Kemp will probably have to bide their time this season.  

Thirty one year old Mark Davies, released by Durham after a spate of injuries, joined the squad on its recent ten day training trip to Antigua, and apparently impressed. A fit, hungry Davies would certainly bolster the seam attack.     

 

Spin bowling

James Tredwell will, as he has done for the past half dozen years, spearhead the spin bowling department, though his return to the England fold for the current Sri Lanka tour has given him renewed hope that his international career is not over yet. This may give off spinner, Adam Riley, twenty tomorrow, more first team chances, though he is still at Loughborough University. He showed some real promise last season, particularly early on, though injury and university limited his opportunities. He is still very young in spin bowling terms, but looks a potentially sound long term replacement for Tredwell. It should not be forgotten that the departures of Denly and van Jaarsveld will limit the part time slow bowling options, which might be a real issue in the one day game.

 

Prediction 

The signings of Powell, Shreck, Harmison, Newman and, potentially, Davies, have raised the average age of the first team squad dramatically. Having looked at the end of last year that the club was going to rely upon the emerging and, in many cases, still unproven, youngsters, the first team is now a much more experienced one. Time will tell whether the additional number of bodies has the required quality to challenge for honours in either the four or one day game.

Indeed, it is difficult to predict where Kent will finish in each competition. After a disastrous 2011, becoming competitive, particularly in the four day format, will be an improvement. That said, pre-season optimism dictates that a genuine challenge for promotion back to Division One of the LVCC, and reaching the knock-out phases of both the T20 and CB40 competitions, might not be beyond this squad, provided that the new recruits and established members deliver, and the youngsters make good progress.

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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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Today is my birthday, the 59th to be precise.

Cause for celebration? Perhaps, but more a sense of satisfaction and gratitude for being granted the last year.  And a sense of expectation for what lay ahead.

But, for the past seven years, any joy has been tinged with sorrow as my mother died just two days before it.  Her last whispered words as I wished her a good night in hospital were “happy birthday, I love you so much”, as if she knew she wouldn’t get the chance to say it again. Thinking no such thing myself, I admonished her, reminding her that my birthday was still a couple of days away and that she could extend her love and best wishes then. But, as always, she knew best.

Yesterday, two fine talents who have also influenced me, though not in as profound a way as my mother, were snatched from us before their time.  Graham Dilley, Kent, Worcestershire and England cricketer, passed away after a short illness at the criminally young age of 52, whilst one of the greatest guitarists of the past half century, Bert Jansch, died at the age of 67 after a long battle with cancer.

I will never forget my first sight of “Picca” Dilley on a Kent ground. Aside from his shock of blond hair, and beaming smile, here, at last, was the type of player that the county club had rarely been blessed with – a genuinely quick bowler who could spreadeagle rather than tickle a batsman’s stumps. On his day he was also a glorious stroke player, earning comparison, on one occasion, with the great Frank Woolley.  Were it not for injury he would surely have led England’s attack for more than 41 tests.

Jansch was a musician’s musician, who influenced and inspired guitarists who became household names such as Jimmy Page, Paul Simon and Neil Young.  I first encountered him playing with the outstanding British folk group, Pentangle, whom he helped to found and collaborated with for many years.

I hadn’t seen Dilley for nearly 20 years, during which time he had become a successful and much loved coach.  Nor had I seen Jansch live in that same period, though his music lives on in recorded form.  But their passing, whilst diminishing my life now, enriches it too because it reminds me how important to me they have been at times in my life, and that they have played a positive part in making me who I am today.  In that sense, they join some distinguished company.

It is against this even sadder than usual backdrop that another birthday has dawned (on a morning that I also hear of the death of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple).  Or perhaps birth weekend would be a more appropriate term. Tonight my wife and I will have a meal and stay in Tunbridge Wells, and on Saturday evening we will pay homage to David Crosby and Graham Nash at the Royal Albert Hall, again with a hotel stay in the capital.

My mother would not have wanted it any other way.

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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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