7/12/2018 1 Comment
Gloucestershire and Kent are building up a fine rivalry. Their fourth meeting of the season was the first of their two Vitality Blast meetings, after Gloucestershire had won an extraordinary home Championship fixture and drew (in extremis) the return, with Kent winning a high-scoring One Day Cup game - the fixture between the two sides so far this season in which the result has not been in doubt almost until the last ball. Last season, Gloucestershire won both Blast games and have continued their domination in this shortest format in another tight encounter. T20 may not be everyone’s cup of tea – it certainly is not mine – but you would have to be a bit of a curmudgeon not to enjoy the games that these two sides, both of which have suffered from hard times in recent years due to near-bankruptcy caused by the need for ground improvements, have been serving-up when they have met. Speaking of curmudgeons, Sir Geoffrey himself would not enjoy the Blast, but you can bet that he is watching how is beloved Yorkshire are getting on from his hospital bed, and we wish him a speedy recovery.
Kent are very much one of the form sides this season, doing well in all three competitions. A game against a Kent side that can boast the incredible run-scoring feats of Heino Kuhn and the extraordinary talents of Joe Denly with his hat-trick and century in the previous Blast game is a severe test for any side. The Blast though is the cricketing equivalent of guerrilla warfare, where two overs of mayhem can turn a result on its head and a mix of skill, luck and power can see a smaller side beating what, on paper, is a much stronger one. Having not been at the races in their first Blast game, against Somerset, Gloucestershire beat Middlesex – their favourite whipping-boys – while Kent have started with good wins against Somerset and Surrey.
This fixture was brought forward several hours on account of another game being played later in the day so, sadly, the crowd was relatively sparse to see what was a humdinger of a match. Gloucestershire started badly with the news that having seen Perera return to Sri Lanka after playing the two games for which they expected to be missing Andrew Tye, the ACB withdrew permission for Tye to play the game as he had only landed in England in the morning. (The fact that the game had also turned into an afternoon rather than an evening fixture may also have influenced). Gloucestershire were thus without an overseas player. With Benny Howell, Gloucestershire’s fixer in T20, injured, it was a return for Graeme van Buuren and Kieron Noema-Barnett.
So far in the Blast, Gloucestershire have relied on a lot of, individually modest, contributions. Yesterday’s game was no exception: the top 6 all got into double figures, but it was Noema-Barnett’s 31 that was the largest individual score. Wickets thus fell regularly and, at 147-6, with just three and a half overs left, there was a danger that the innings could subside to an inadequate total. Enter Jack Taylor at #7, still banned from bowling, but capable of hitting the ball a long way. 42 from 23 balls swung the momentum away from Kent and, just briefly, Gloucestershire were looking at a total around 190. With only 10 – “only ten”; those words would give poor old Sir Geoffrey a relapse – from the last over, following eight from the previous, Gloucestershire were kept to a stiff, but gettable, 184-7. For Kent, Mitch Claydon’s 1-26, with an excellent penultimate over, was probably the difference between 184 and 190+, while Joe Denly opened the bowling for Kent and removed the still dangerous Michael Klinger and Ian Cockbain.
Gloucestershire opened with the fit-again “Sid” Payne and with the recalled Graeme van Buuren. Van Buuren came to Gloucestershire with extraordinary career figures in South Africa but has never really prospered in England. Up against them was a power-packed Kent side that invites the bowler to leave the batsman at the crease because the one who will come in if you take a wicket is even more dangerous! This though was to be one of the days that van Buuren will remember with most affection, as he removed Joe Denly with his third delivery and went on to complete figures of 1-26 from his four overs. It is a measure of the problems that Kent’s rivals face that you get rid of Joe Denly and that only brings in Heino Kuhn. With Kuhn and the equally dangerous Daniel Bell-Drummond bedding-in, Billings and Braithwaite to come, the Power Play ended with Kent 54-1, momentum building and the chase seeming to be well under control.
Financial necessity has obliged Gloucestershire to trawl the counties for players who have never quite made it elsewhere, but who flourish in the Bristol air. Will Gidman was a classic example. Ryan Higgins is proving very much to be another. Middlesex fans are looking with fascinated horror at the progress of players who they have let escape, such as Harry Podmore and Higgins. Higgins came on, allowed five singles and got rid of Bell-Drummond. Then Klinger, a wise old bird in the captaincy, threw the ball to spinner, Tom Smith. Three dots, three singles and suddenly the Kent momentum was slowing. The run rate required went over 10 and Kent were in need of oxygen on the climb to the summit. Klinger kept switching his bowlers and brought on Matt Taylor. Taylor is genuinely quick, but then so is a paint spray too: when each goes right, both do a superb job but, when they go wrong, the results can be catastrophic. Kuhn and Billings swapped single but, the effect of the over from Taylor was somewhat spoiled by the third and fourth balls being launched into the far distance by Sam Billings. This started an unusual passage of play in which first we had two overs in which a wicket followed a six next ball and then, punctuated by a mean over from van Buuren. We then had two overs that started with a wicket as first Matt Taylor found his range and removed the dangerous Braithwaite and then dear old KNB came on and removed Heino Kuhn caught and bowled with his first ball.
Six overs to go. Kuhn gone. Kent 110-6 and, seemingly, fading fast. 75 from 36 balls or, to put it another way, +39 – that is… a run a ball and 39 more to find from somewhere. Would Kent die quietly? Would they, hell! Dickson and Haggett knew that they had to swing like crazy and it came off. Three overs to go. 34 wanted. Match in the balance again. Back came Ryan Higgins. The conversation with Maxy Klinger probably went something along the lines of:
“Ryan, get out your Superman cape again. This one is getting away from us.”
“OK, Cap. I’ll see what I can do.”
Just four from his first four balls and then Haggett was run out – following fine work from wicket-keeper Roderick. Twenty-eight needed from two overs. Sid Payne limited Kent to nine from the penultimate volley of six.
Higgins to Milne. Nineteen needed. Surely this was all over now?
Disaster! A wide, which the batsmen, with great presence of mind, also managed to run for. Two off the ball. Then another single from the extra ball. Sixteen from five.
Higgins to Milne. Boundary! And again… boundary! Suddenly Kent seemed to be marching unstoppably to a last over heist. Three balls left. Eight to get.
Ryan Higgins came to Bristol looking for 1st XI, big match experience. He was now getting just what he said that he wanted, with his side looking to HIM – yes! Ryan Higgins – to pull this one out of the fire. It cannot be a situation that he faced too often as a Middlesex player in a dressing room full of full internationals and Lions. Mind you, at moments like this; he may have been thinking fondly of the quiet anonymity of the Middlesex 2nd XI.
Fourth ball. Higgins to Milne. Both sides know that if Milne manages a third consecutive boundary, the game is just about over. Milne can only get it away for a single.
Two balls to go. Seven wanted. Whatever you do, Ryan, do NOT bowl a wide or a no ball. Higgins to Dickson. Hits. The batsmen come back for a suicidal second. Run out!
In comes Mitch Claydon. One ball left. Six to win. Five to tie. Who wants to be a hero?
Higgins bowls. Claydon swings. Chaos! Claydon misses. Higgins does too, but Claydon’s bat flies out into the covers as the batsman swings so hard that he loses his grip. Then it appeared that, with Claydon out of his ground and without his bat, he was given out stumped, although it seems that the umpire at the bowling end had called time, as the batsman was not running and the match was over, so the wicket did not go into the scorebook. Shredded nerves all round.
Both sides are now on two wins and one defeat. Sussex top the group with two wins from two games and the best NRR. Kent follow, and Gloucestershire, with a negative NRR, are in third. It is early days yet, with only Kent, Gloucestershire and perennial strugglers in this format, Middlesex, have played three games. But the signs are that Kent look likely Quarter-Finalists and that Michael Klinger, now much more relaxed with the news that his wife’s cancer seems to be cured, is going to produce his usual “quart from a pint pot” miracle with Gloucestershire and have the Shire in the Quarter Final frame too.
Peter Roebuck entitled a piece in his book “Slices of Cricket”, describing a game that I attended, “A Wild, Wild Run Chase”, describing a 40 over Sunday League game at Bristol. This one was a pretty wild run chase too. Do not believe the people who tell you that the Blast is poor-quality cricket (Yes, Toppers, I am looking at YOU!!!) You may not love Whackit, as T20 is often termed, but it can produce some tense, high-quality matches.
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