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Posts Tagged ‘The Mote’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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