7/1/2018 0 Comments
By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
The Royal London One Day Cup is, as Sir Humphrey Appleby would have put it, “in the propinquity of its ultimate and regrettable termination”. A September One Day Cup Final at Lord’s was the highlight of the season for decades, with counties and their supporters desperate to reach the Final. It has seen multiple formats, including starting as a 65 over competition with a maximum of 15 overs per bowler, followed by many years of 60 overs. It has also seen the unexpected (who now would believe that, for many years, it was a blistering innings by Geoff Boycott that produced the record score in a Lord’s Final?) Now, the old and popular knock-out format long abandoned (I wonder just how much fans regret, like me, that we no longer see the Minor Counties and the recreational cricketers of the County Boards fighting through various rounds for a place in the last 16 and the chance to carry out a giant-killing – games such as Devon v Somerset, or Durham County Board XI v Durham were the lifeblood of the competition). Now, the Royal London One Day Cup has become a hybrid version of the old Benson and Hedges Cup, with its 55 over format, league + knock-out structure and mid-season Final. The old B&H was always the ugly sister of the one-day competitions, never taken quite as seriously by the counties, although the silverware was always welcome, especially when one of the less-fashionable teams won. However, next year will see the final Lord’s Final. Like John Cleese’s parrot, it will be no more; it will cease to be. No longer does the Lord’s Final see noisy sell-out crowds, with tickets all-but-impossible to obtain but, still, more than twenty thousand fans were in Lord’s, undoubtedly helped by the fact that one of the counties that makes up the Greater London area was a finalist.
Both teams came from the tight and hard-fought South Group. Hampshire had topped that group with a 5-2 record, while Kent had just squeaked into third place with a 5-3 record. While Hampshire had overwhelmed a Yorkshire 2nd XI in the Semi-Final, thanks to a brutal James Vince century, Kent had to defeat holders Nottinghamshire in the eliminator and then North Group winners Worcestershire in the Semi-Final: in both cases, Kent had won on the back of a devastating Heino Kuhn century. The trouble with such runs of form is that they have a nasty habit of running out just when you need them most. Before the Final Kuhn had had a modest run of scores in the competition of 36*, 117, 113, 4, 124* & 127, the “4” against Essex was just to prove that he is human after all.
Before the Final, Reece Topley had expressed a fear that the Topley family curse would hit him. His father was Twelfth Man four times for Lord’s Finals and never did make it into the playing XI; now back from injury, Reece Topley made it five-out-of-five for the Topleys as Hampshire opted to play leg-spinner Mason Crane instead of left-arm seamer Reece Topley in this Final. The word from the Hampshire camp was that Crane had received a pain-killing injection to allow him to play and that it will be last time he plays for his county for the rest of the season.
On the Kent side, a devastating century and a lot of wickets against Middlesex was obviously no preparation for a 50-over Final, so Grant Stewart missed out, but Darren Stevens and Matt Henry were back in the XI.
Sam Billings won the Toss and decided to chase on a warm and sunny morning, with what appeared to be a pretty good pitch beckoning, with the sides lining up:
Kent: Bell-Drummond, Kuhn, Denly, Dickson, Billings, Blake, Stevens, Haggett, Podmore, Henry, Qayyum.
Hampshire: Rossouw, Alsop, Vince, Northeast, Weatherley, Dawson, McManus, Berg, Wood, Steyn, Crane.
Despite the danger that the Kent attack of Harry Podmore and Matt Henry could be hard to cope early on, with a slightly green pitch that had not yet dried out in the sun and might be expected to get better and better through the day, James Vince admitted that he had wanted to bat first, so Sam Billings’s invitation suited him nicely.
One always felt that Kent needed early wickets, but Hampshire made a solid start. 25-0 from 5 overs. 58-0 from 10, with Callum Haggett’s opening over going for 18. By then a sinking feeling may have been growing in the pit of Sam Billings’ stomach that he had made the wrong call. On came Darren Stevens, up came Sam Billings to the stumps: it was lovely to see a wicket-keeper standing-up to a seamer. 15 overs, 90-0 and Hampshire scoring comfortably at a run-a-ball with few alarms. The writing was on the wall that Hampshire could run up a huge score.
With Callum Haggett bowling with all the control of a faulty paint spray, it was Joe Denly’s turn to come on and try his luck. It is hard to recall that Denly was an integral part of the England limited-overs sides in 2009/10 and was a promising leg-spinner to boot. This season, Denly’s bowling has been dusted-off, and he has had some success, particularly in the red-ball game. Initially, it seemed that he was giving Rilee Rossouw some problems, but Rossouw got through them, and the breakthrough refused to come. 20 overs, 126-0 and Hampshire were starting to accelerate, even if they were treating Darren Stevens with respect still.
Finally, on came Imran Qayyum and out went Tom Alsop for 72: flighted delivery, two or three steps down the wicket, miss and Sam Billings whips off the bails. Kent needed the wicket, but 136-1 from 22.2 overs was not the greatest of starts, and the bad news was that it brought in James Vince, who had a point to make to Ed Smith. At the 30-over mark, it was 193-1, Vince was getting into his stride, Rossouw was playing with increasing freedom and Kent seemed set to be chasing a massive total: 380-400 looked all too possible.
From there, it did not go quite as Hampshire had wanted. Vice lofted Qayyum to Joe Denly at long-on, falling for 23. 193-2. However, Rossouw was still there and duly reached his century in the thirty-fifth over, and Kent still had a sizeable problem. Sam Northeast and Rossouw continued to accumulate runs. After 40 overs Hampshire were 262-2 and always looking set for a score in the 360-380 range. That fortieth over featured a straight drive from Rossouw, aimed straight at the umpire, that had him diving for cover, as self-preservation took over from dignity. However, to the first ball of the forty-second over he lashed out at Joe Denly and was caught at mid-wicket for 125. 270-3. Two overs later, Liam Dawson chipped a catch to cover point and Denly had another. Sam Northeast has his fifty, but wickets kept falling at the other end as Kent clawed things back. Lewis McManus hit Denly high into the Lord’s sky, and Sean Dickson dived forward to reach it: 297-5 with just over four overs to go and Kent were clawing their way back as Hampshire imploded somewhat. Then Weatherly missed his second ball and Denly had a fourth wicket. 297-6 with just 24 balls left. Thirty-three came from those last four overs as Hampshire finished on a record score for a Lord’s Final of 330-7, although it should have been a lot more as they only managed 68-5 in their last ten overs. However, with such a brilliant start, it was always likely that Hampshire would struggle to keep up the momentum in the slog overs as batsmen came in and tried to play shots with little or no reconnaissance. In truth, it was a massive score for a Lord’s Final and just reflected how well Hampshire have batted in the competition.
For Kent, it looked like a case of Kuhn or bust. For Hampshire, Chris Wood and Dale Steyn with the new, white ball. For two overs things seemed pretty good: 16-0, with Kuhn, looked in pretty good form – and well he should. The next two overs produced just two singles, as Hampshire showed that 331 would take some getting. Still, after nine overs it was 55-0, and Kent were going nicely at just better than a run-a-ball, well up with the asking rate. Had Daniel Bell-Drummond and Heino Kuhn been able to keep this up for 20 overs, they would have put the Hampshire fourth and fifth bowlers under terrific pressure. Unfortunately for Kent, the last over of the Power Play saw Kuhn run out as Gareth Berg dived and threw at the stumps from close range, with just one stump to aim at as Kuhn tried to run a suicidal single. 55-1 and Kent could not afford another quick wicket. That though is what they got. The scoring rate had dipped significantly with the fall of Kuhn, Kent were little above 5-an-over and needed some momentum. Joe Denly went after Gareth Berg and only lobbed a catch to James Vince. 17 overs, 83-2 and Hampshire, were on top.
James Vince introduced an all-spin attack with contrasting fortunes: Liam Dawson bowled his first 4 for 14 runs and kept a tight lid on the scoring; Mason Crane’s first three went for 29. The Crane gamble was failing, and so Vince brought himself on and reined-in the scoring at the other end. Denly and Dickson were scoring as many singles as they wanted, but the boundaries needed to stop the required run rate from rising stubbornly refused to come. Crane came back, and Dickson swiped at him and lifted a catch to Rossouw.
30 overs: Kent 158-3, Hampshire 193-1.
Kent desperately needed someone to score, score big and score quickly.
33 overs. 168-3 and the RRR now over 9. The match was slipping away from Kent.
Daniel Bell-Drummond was still there, but he was struggling to raise his tempo up to a run-a-ball when Kent needed significantly better than that to get back into the game. Finally, in the thirty-fifth over, the killer blow: Chris Wood bowled Bell-Drummond for 86. 179-4 after 35 overs. From there on it was just a matter of how large the margin of defeat would be as Hampshire’s bowlers and fielders hung on to their prey like an angry bulldog as the usual crazy mix of run outs and dismissals to wild slogs sunk the chase without a trace. 40 overs, 217-6 and Dale Steyn back into the attack: not a bad change to be able to make for the last ten. Sam Billings was still there, but the best score from the Kent bottom six was the 12 of Darren Stevens. Berg finished it off by having Sam Billings caught by Dale Steyn for 75.
Kent were 269ao and lost by 61 runs, with 2.5 overs left to bowl but, in reality, it was not even as close as that rather large margin suggests. To a degree, it was self-inflicted, because there were no fewer than four runouts in the Kent innings, but run outs are an operational hazard when you are chasing a big total and falling behind the run rate against a side as professional and clinical as Hampshire have been in the knock-out phase. The Hampshire fielders backed-up their bowlers brilliantly and, as a side, were just too good for Kent on the day. Unquestionably, the better team won, although the losers can console themselves that they are doing enough to suggest that they may be a force to reckon with next season in both red and white ball cricket.
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