First ball: Remembering things past
“We’ll get a bat.” Really Joe Denly? In mid-September? In a one-day final? Does anyone remember Phil DeFreita? But much has changed about cricket since the old orthodoxies of the 1970s and 1980s, even from 1995 when we saw these two sides battle it out for the Benson & Hedges Trophy at Lord’s.
Back then, three archetypal Test match batsmen, Michael Atherton, Jason Gallian and John Crawley, dominated the Lancashire innings, amassing 212 off 274 for seven in the allotted 55 overs. Strikers like Graeme Lloyd, Wasim Akram and Ian Austin barely got in, but few cared as the target set-up (over five!) was considered tough.
In 1995, those of us in Lancashire seats sat back and enjoyed a perfect chase. Aravinda de Silva impressed everyone with a superbly constructed 112 batting on a different plane, fully deserving of the Gold Award. But local lads Austin, Mike Watkinson, Gary Yates and Glen Chapple (OK – he’s almost local) kept pressing and taking wickets at the other end and the result was never in doubt.
Fast forward to the present and the sun was baking the glassy pitch at Trent Bridge as the same two clubs locked horns again after 27 years. The magnitude of the heat this late in the summer is another departure from 20th century life that is troubling, even if we enjoy its warmth. Another worry to cloud the bluest of skies is whether the 21st century will have a warm reception for 50-over county cricket.
Second ball: Lavelle clears selection doubts
Ollie Robinson (who we know can step up as he made 206 in the first match of the competition) took his first hour for Kent with almost a run a ball and had a personal platform to accelerate. Then Liam Hurt took a length delivery to bounce back through the wicket, hitting an inside edge on the way.
George Lavelle had to get things right: he had enough balance to push off his left foot (usually a “mistake” for a goalkeeper who kept his right hand in the crease); he was athletic enough to get to the ball that would have eluded many other keepers, the edge was so thick; he picks it up at ankle height, with enough dexterity in the gloves to hold it by the fingertips.
Lavelle is 22-years-old and only takes part in this match as Phil Salt is away with England. With Dane Vilas capable of picking up the gloves if required, it could be a tough call to decide between him and another George, the all-rounder Balderson. In a moment of brilliance, the young technician righted his place as an old-school keeper-batter (in that order).
Ball three: Kent’s batsmen make the most of reprieve
Kent set Lancashire 307 to win the trophy. At the halfway mark, it looked about even, with no batter really replaced by a Lancashire oozing through dropped catches and some fairly shoddy cricket.
With the camel, an extinct species in cricket, off-field pitches akin to snooker-table poaching and year-round contracts that facilitate the practice and analysis of almost any situation that may arise in harum-scarum death overs, it seemed abnormal for so many mistakes to yield runs. . Lavelle conceded a single with a needless toss on the stumps and Keaton Jennings and Luke Wells almost had an altercation on the field after Jennings appeared to get a late call for a skier. The Red Rose men dropped more than they caught.
Rob Jones and Jennings affected a fine relay catch in the deep but that doesn’t excuse a poor result from Lancashire over 25 or so. Fielding can often be the difference between sides in finals and it’s hard to believe Kent will be more careless.
Fourth ball: Long and short
Luke Wells rounded off a less than happy day with a meek dismissal for 16, bringing Josh Bohannon to the crease. It doesn’t help that No. 3 tackles the beanpole Jennings, but it looks too short to the naked eye. Power hitting is not his forte and Kent knew that Lancashire’s scoring rate could be arrested if they could stifle the square of horizontal batsmen either side of the wicket.
Bohannon’s lack of power found him in the end, a fade ball hit well inside the boundary by Grant Stewart. If you’re going to hit the ball there (and the delivery called for it), you have to hit it six times. If you can’t, the white ball XI should be a question mark against the selection. Balderson (yes, I miss him) would have offered more with the bat and would have been a very useful bowling option as well.
Fifth ball: Good game! Good game!
By 5.15pm on a usually sunny day, the Barmy Army can be out in full (tiring) volume, various fancy-dressed royals can be singing congas, or a DJ can be wildly pumping up the crowd. Not at Trent Bridge.
With 17 balls to go, Lancashire were 176 for four, 15 short of the DLS par, and the crowd showed great interest in every ball. The Kent supporters cheered every point, the Lancashire supporters every one. Everyone in the ground (not a lot of corporate hospitality, not many neutrals) was aware of the stakes and six and a half hours after the game started we were no closer to knowing the final winners.
It got me thinking about a statement I used in the early days of T20 – limited overs cricket is the second best game in the world.
Sixth ball: Kent wins in a fine advertisement for the 50-over format
In the final analysis Kent bowled better and bowled better but the main difference was that Lancashire batted no more than C and Kent batted A+.
Lancashire may wonder about the balance of their side, lacking strong batting and specialist slow bowling, but they turned in a fine team effort. He was led by 20-year-old Joey Evison, who sounded like he should have opened for Sammy Davis Jr at The Sands Hotel in 1967, but actually opened for Kent with a beautifully judged 97, complete with audacious spells with ball and ball. the second of three spectacular catches. He was the obvious man of the match, but his captain Joe Denly was not far behind, especially in fueling such a strong collective performance.
Kent ended up losing in the final, but there was no real loser. Both sides were committed to the players who saw them during the show and the team gave players a chance to go down in local folklore (with Darren Stevens). If the stardust and standard wasn’t the same as it was with Liam Livingstone or Sam Billings in town, nobody cared about the partisan crowd standing right behind the boys wearing their team’s colours.
It was also a hard-fought match, played in good spirits in front of a boisterous but not frenzied home that occupied perhaps half the available seats. Like much of English cricket, the future of the domestic 50-over competition is in question, but two years in a row, it has produced great entertainment, created new heroes and delivered an enduring story. With the addition of Kent’s name alongside Glamorgan in 2021, a pair of cricket’s less glamorous clubs have also gained some notoriety.
If the Royal London Cup and its successors are to be further devalued in the pursuit of ‘high performance’, English cricket must know what it is missing. If you want an answer to that, feel free to ask Kent’s players and fans.