Ball one: A reminder of things past
“We’ll have a bat.” Really Joe Denly? In the middle of September? In a one-day final? Does anyone remember Phil DeFreitas? But so much has changed in cricket from the old orthodoxies of the 1970s and 1980s, even since 1995 when I saw both sides duke it out for the Benson & Hedges Trophy at Lord’s.
Back then, three archetypal Test match batters, Michael Atherton, Jason Gallian and John Crawley, dominated the Lancashire innings, scoring 212 of 274 off seven from the designated 55 overs. Batsmen like Graham Lloyd, Wasim Akram and Ian Austin hardly came in, but they were not too worried as the target set (a brilliant five!) was considered a tough one.
Those of us sat in the seats of Lancashire in 1995 back and we really enjoyed the pursuit. Aravinda de Silva thrilled everyone with a superbly constructed 112, batting on another plane, fully deserving of the Gold Award. But the local Austin lads, Mike Watkinson, Gary Yates and Glen Chapple (okay – it’s almost local) continued to squeeze and take wickets at the other end and the result was never in doubt.
Fast forward to today and the sun was baking a glass pitch at Trent Bridge when the same two clubs locked horns again 27 years later. Another difference from the life of the 20th century is the amount of heat so late in the summer, which causes uneasiness even when we are enjoying its warmth. Another concern is whether the 21st century will provide such a warm welcome for 50-year-old county cricket to reveal its softer skies.
Ball two: Lavelle washes away any doubts about selection
Ollie Robinson (who we know can push forward, as shown by his 206 in the first match of the tournament) made Kent’s debut almost running a ball and had a personal platform to accelerate it. Then Liam Hurt got a length delivery to go back through the wicket, rapping the inside edge on the way.
George Lavelle had to get everything right: fair enough to push out his left foot (usually the “wrong” one for a right-handed keeper at the crease); athletic enough to dive for a ball that would have thwarted many other keepers, so thick was the rim; skilled enough with the gloves to hold the catch in the ends of his fingers, scooping it up from ankle height.
Lavelle is 22 and keeping in this game only because Phil Salt is away with England. Perhaps it was difficult to decide between him and the other George, the all-rounder, Balderson, with Dane Vilas able to take the gloves if necessary. In one moment of brilliance, the young technician justified his place as an old-school witch keeper (in that order).
Ball Three: Kent batsmen make most of the recoveries
Kent Lancashire set 307 to win the cup. At the halfway mark, he looked on par, the fact that no batter had really gone off to offset the leaking of Lancashire runs through dropped catches and some sub-standard cricket out.
With the demise of the camel in cricket, outfields like a snooker table baize and year-round contracts that facilitated practice and analysis of almost any situation that might arise in harum-scarum death spells, it seemed that it was anomalous for so many errors to arise. . Lavelle conceded a single to a needless throw on the stumps, and Keaton Jennings and Luke Wells had a near miss on the field after Jennings appeared to have been called out late for a skyr. Red Rose’s men fell more than they took too.
Rob Jones and Jennings put on a fine relay in the world, but that’s no excuse for Lancashire’s 25 or so goals. Fielding can often be the difference between sides in finals and it’s hard to believe that Kent will be more careless.
Ball four: The long and the short
Luke Wells ended a less than happy day with a meek dismissal for 16, which brought Josh Bohannon to the fall. It doesn’t help that No. 3 is struggling with the beanpole Jennings, but it looks very short to the naked eye. Power was not their forte, and Kent knew that if they could strangle the bat square horizontally on either side of the wicket, Lancashire’s scoring rate could be arrested.
Bohannon’s lack of power eventually found him, a light pick-up shot well inside the boundary by Grant Stewart. If you are going to hit the ball there (and the delivery called for it) you have to hit it for six. If you can’t, there must be a question mark against the selection in a white ball XI. Balderson (yes, I miss him) would have offered more with the bat and also become a very handy bowling option.
Ball five: Good game! Good game!
Usually by 5.15pm on a sunny day, the Barmy Army might be in full voice (tedious), there might be a range of royals in fancy dress playing congas or a DJ might be rocking the crowd unceasing height. Not at Trent Bridge.
With 17 wickets per bowl, Lancashire were 176 for four, 15 behind the DLS par and the crowd was enjoying every ball. The Kent supporters applauded every dot, the Lancashire supporters applauded every one. Everyone inside the ground (not much corporate hospitality, not many neutrals) was aware of the stakes and the fact that, six and a half hours after the fun started, we were no closer to the winners to inform at last.
I had reason to reflect on a statement I used to make in the early days of T20 – limited-overs cricket is the second best game in the world.
Ball six: Kent win in a fine advertisement for the 50-over format
In the final analysis, Kent bowled better and batted better, but the main difference was the fielding, with Lancashire more of a C- and Kent an A+.
Lancashire may have been surprised by the balance of their side, short of power hitters and specialist slow bowling, but they managed a good team effort. It was fronted by 20-year-old Joey Evison, who looks like he should be opening for Sammy Davis Jr at The Sands Hotel in 1967, but in fact he’s opened for Kent for 97 years of age that was considered beautiful, supplemented by canny spells with the ball and the. the second of three great catches. He was clearly man of the match, but his skipper Joe Denly was not far behind, especially as he inspired such a strong performance.
Kent ended a losing streak, but there were no real losers. Both sides remained loyal to the players who had seen them through to the exhibition event, allowing the squad’s players to go down in local folklore (by Darren Stevens). If it wasn’t for the dust and quality as it might have been with Liam Livingstone or Sam Billings in town, nobody cared much about a partisan crowd, which was just behind the lads wearing their team’s colours. .
It was also a tough game, played in good spirit in front of a house that had maybe half the available seats, but not savagely. Like much of English cricket, the future of the domestic 50-over competition is in question but, for two years running, it has produced great entertainment, created new heroes and provided an enduring story. With Kent’s name added next to Glamorgan’s in 2021, a pair of cricket’s less glamorous clubs have also received a bit of glory.
If the Royal London Cup and its successors are to be further shunned and devalued in order to achieve “high performance”, English cricket should know what it is missing. Feel free to ask Kent players and fans if you need an answer to that one.