Leicestershire v Kent, Grace Road, County Championship, 18th & 20th April 2013
My advice, if anyone is interested, is that if you are planning to watch a couple of days of County Championship cricket you would be well advised to choose the first and third days. I tend to the view that the natural length of a County match is three days. Day One has the freshness of a clean sheet, a new start. Day Two tends to be a day of consolidation and retrenchment. Day Three is generally the day when the outcome of the match is determined or confirmed. Day Four is really only there to allow for rain and can be anything, or quite frequently, nothing. I attended days two and four of this match.
After my brief foray into Division One there was a palpable (if not exactly bends-inducing) drop in pressure in returning to Division Two, not so much a drop in quality (though that is increasingly evident) but a lowering of expectations. For Leicestershire a draw against Kent would be an achievement and a victory a triumph, and for Kent? Well, Kent are a funny county at the moment.
What they have in common with Leicestershire is an uncommon number of talented young players (the two sides met in the final of last year’s Second XI competition, with Kent the narrow victors). Where they differ is that very few of Kent’s young players feature in their First XI. Eight of their side last week were over thirty and five thirty-five or over. With the exception of the comparative youngster Tredwell, none of the ex-internationals (Key, Jones MBE, Nash) can have any realistic expectation of a recall, and none of the previously overlooked (Stevens, Shreck, Davies) will be looking for a surprise call-up. This is not the 1970s, after all. With an intermingling of the younger talents (Northeast, Bulldog-Drummond, Billings, Coles) the quality is there to achieve promotion, but I can’t help wondering what incentive there is for the older men to achieve it.
It would have taken me a while to guess this, but Mark Davies has the best bowling average of any current English player who has taken 200 wickets (22.63). He was once called into an England squad as a replacement (in South Africa in 2009) but otherwise missed out on The Nod through a combination of injuries and being in his prime at a time when serious pace rather than achievement in County Cricket was the criterion for selection. He sports the hairdo of a ‘seventies footballer, complete with sideburns –
and spent his time in the outfield chatting amiably with the spectators, from which I gathered that he enjoys staying at the Leicester Hilton, because they do a decent fry-up for breakfast. Such are the preoccupations of the County pro.
Davies shared the new ball with Charlie Shreck (35), leaving Matt Coles to bowl first change into a stiff wind. Coles, I thought, was the most promising seamer in Division Two last season. Over the Winter he toured Australia with the England Lions and was sent home again for some “drink-related late night incidents”. On Tuesday he looked out of sorts and off the pace and finished wicketless. Such too is often the lot of the County pro. (Although he appears, in this picture, to be gazing longingly at the Fox Bar, I’m sure that is not the case.)
On Day One Kent made 406. On Day Two – when I was there – Leicestershire moved very slowly and steadily to 250-5. Day Three was Leicestershire’s dies mirabilis, with centuries for Matt Boyce and Shiv Thakor. Thakor’s was no surprise (after 11 first-class matches he averages 52.78). Boyce’s demonstrates the value of having an opener coming at number 6 (an idea I like to think England may have borrowed in respect of Joe Root). Leicestershire finished the day on 452-7 and on the Saturday extended their total to 495, Thakor receiving some useful support from Ollie Freckingham. (Although you can’t make it out here, the players were wearing black armbands in memory of Mike Denness – not, as the man on the Tannoy had it – black armpits.)
There wasn’t very much likelihood of Leicester making any kind of sporting declaration. For one thing, as I have suggested, a draw against Kent and a first innings lead represents a positive result for us, and for another, with Hoggard unable to take the field and (I was told) Robbie Williams ‘nursing a groin strain‘ we only had three and a half fit frontline bowlers. Apparently Wyatt, Wells, Ireland and Buck are also out injured after two matches, so we could have difficulty bowling anyone out twice in the near future.
Although Freckingham, with the new ball, had the openers beaten for pace on a couple of occasions
with the sun shining and nothing much to play for, the scene was set for Rob Key to score the most balmy, untroubled century he could ever have hoped to make. What a way to earn a living.
Talking of promising newcomers, I am very impressed by the early season form of our new Catering Manager, Mr. Stew. His cottage pie on Thursday was more than decent and on the Saturday his chicken in Portuguese tomato sauce (£4.50) was a delight. I was also pleased to see that the Club Shop has replaced their murals of James Taylor and Paul Nixon with what I like to think of as our answer to the Wilton Triptych.
These things matter, you know.