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I was born with cricket in my blood. My father was an enthusiastic if modest club performer who played for a team that, where once it had consisted largely of doctors from the local hospital from which it derived its name, and had been one of the strongest in the Medway area, had declined by the early sixties into a dad’s army of clerks, TV repair men and shipwrights (not to denigrate those trades but rather to demonstrate the disconnection over time from the medical profession).

My father’s skills were confined to a stubborn resistance to giving his wicket away easily (though, despite himself, he invariably did), and an aptitude for both pocketing slip catches himself, and occasionally by redirecting the ball from his commodious stomach into the hands of more agile teammates in the vicinity.

The team was my extended family – every player was an “uncle”, though not in the biological sense of the word, and I revered them, despite their limitations on the field. At the age of ten I graduated from mascot and scoreboard operator to become its official scorer. I fulfilled this role for the next five years, spending summer afternoons in cramped, rotting wooden sheds, invariably sat alongside grizzled, gap-toothed septuagenarians with a life long chain smoking habit.

But I loved it.

It wasn’t just the game that captured my young heart, but the environment surrounding it – the rickety double decker bus journeys through the Kent countryside, the team being forced to change on the bus if it was behind time, the sing-songs on the journey back (my party piece for some reason was Wouldn’t It Be Loverly from My Fair Lady) and the regular stops at pubs such as the Chequers at Loose and the Five Bells in Snodland. “Home” games at the Civil Service Sports Ground and Langton Playing Fields in Gillingham did not generate the same romance but were, nonetheless, events to be savoured. And then there was Tuesday night net practice, when I spent two hours building up a fearful sweat scurrying to retrieve balls that had been clubbed hither and thither (funny how they never managed it at weekends), was bliss.

At fifteen I made my own “first class” debut at Blue House Marden, a short walk from the Stile Bridge Inn and, “batting” at number eleven, notched a magisterial 0 not out in the customary crushing defeat. My other memory of that game was landing in a jungle of nettles, vainly chasing an edge down to third man. I could not sit down at school for the next three days.

And then there was the county side, on the cusp of its glory years of the seventies. Club commitments limited our outings to the Nevill, Garrison, Mote, Crabble, St Lawrence and Bat and Ball grounds, but my father and I managed a handful of days each season, courtesy of his Association of Kent Cricket Clubs pass.

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My greatest thrill came when our annual holiday to Folkestone in August coincided with the traditional Cricket Week. My parents would deposit me at the Cheriton Ground around ten o’clock in the morning and went off for a day of beach, bingo and Bobby’s shopping, allowing me to indulge in my busman’s holiday of scoring every ball of both matches and haring after Cowdrey, Knott and Underwood for their autographs as they left the field at lunch, tea and close. It was an era when, aside from newspaper photographs and occasionally black and white television coverage, we only saw our sporting idols “in the flesh” – yet they were more accessible for that.

Of course, I was playing cricket too at school, on both playground concrete and playing field grass. At Glencoe Road primary school I was the proud custodian of the chalk required to repaint the wicket on the wall at each break, lunchtime and long after the bell sounded to send us home. The only spectator sport that could compare were the regular fights outside the school gates at home time.

Although, unlike football, we did not play against other schools, I opened the batting in games at the Maidstone Road recreation ground in Chatham. My finest cricketing hour in those pre-eleven plus days was, however, imbued with tragedy when having, like Hutton at the Oval in 1948, carried my bat in a pathetically low team total, I arrived home to be informed by my mother that my pet dog, Patch, had been put down. I suppose the events of that afternoon taught me the value of treating those “twin imposters” of triumph and disaster equally.

Moving to Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School I was converted in my first year from an opening bat into a medium quick (for a twelve year old) bowler with a capacity for late swing – an pubescent Jimmy Anderson if you like. After flirting with the styles of Fred Trueman, Wes Hall and the mercurial Alan Brown, I began to model both my bowling action and fielding demeanour, if not my batting, which suffered in the process, on the mighty John Shepherd (though there was still the occasional Wes Hall whirl of the arms for variety).

My school had always been strong at cricket, competing successfully with teams from the Judd School, Skinner’s, King’s School Rochester and Dartford and Maidstone Grammar Schools to name but a few. At under twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen levels I was a prolific wicket taker, with regular six and seven wicket hauls. My proudest moment, and I suspect my father’s too, was when he slipped away from work early in London one evening to watch me play for the under fourteens against Chatham South Technical School. I took eight wickets for three runs in eight overs and we won by ten wickets. I don’t recall him coming again – perhaps he just wanted to cherish that moment always.

The most publicly acclaimed performance was seven for fifteen against Faversham Grammar School. The school headmaster, a fine club cricketer himself for, I believe, Linton Park, who umpired a number of the age group games, announced at the school assembly on the following Monday morning that my spell had been the finest he had ever witnessed by a schoolboy of my age.

My exploits caught the eye of the Kent under fifteen selectors and I played in a handful of trial games, including the final eliminator for the county team. Playing for East against West Kent, I chose that match, however, to misplace my customary accuracy and spray the ball continually down the leg side of Graham Clinton who, when he managed to reach it, clipped it to fine leg for four. He made the Kent team, and forged a strong county career – I did not.

But I didn’t fade into cricketing obscurity – yet. In the second of three years in the First XI at “the Math” I took forty nine wickets, falling just three short of the all-time record. I followed this with a couple of highly successful seasons at university, and subsequently – albeit briefly – played at a decent level in both Yorkshire club cricket and around south east London in the late seventies and early eighties, where, oddly, I reverted to being a middle order batsman who bowled a little.

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My playing is now limited to fielding the occasional ball on the boundary at the St Lawrence or Nevill Ground, and the beach (I recommend Sunny Sands in Folkestone and Viking Bay at Broadstairs). I wonder too if I’m alone in strolling around the ground in the breaks between innings or along the seashore in the hope of being called upon to pouch a skier or pounce on a straight drive from one of the ever diminishing number of impromptu games.

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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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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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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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