Friday 24th June 2022 – The Vitality T20 Blast – St Lawrence Ground, Canterbury
Where there’s time, there’s hope is a saying trotted out when there really is neither hope or time. For Kent’s hopes of being the first county to retain their T20 Blast trophy, the moment where hope was overtaken by the lack of hope passed earlier in the week. But that didn’t stop an almost capacity crowd heading down to Canterbury on a balmy Friday night to see them face Sussex.
The major test venues in England (Lords, The Oval, Edgbaston and so on) are modern palaces fit for the big occasion but the smaller grounds often have the edge when it comes to atmosphere for big games. Kent’s St Lawrence ground is a mixture of the traditional and the basic. But for many of the T20 games, the Southern Bank is where the atmosphere comes from, with a mixture of picnicking families and raucous groups shoulder to shoulder.
The elevated bank is topped with the beer marquee and food trucks. One aspect that cricket has got right since the return from Covid restrictions has been the realisation that to give spectators value, they need to offer better catering. A few years ago the only offerings would have been burgers and chips. Now, you can still have your burger and chips but also souvlaki, Thai green curry, wood-fired pizza or Korean BBQ chicken.
Of course, if the cricket is poor then fans may not come. There’s a direct correlation between winning teams and the demand for tickets. But there’s also a core set of fans who just want to be part of a crowd, irrespective of the performance on the pitch. And there’s no denying Kent’s T20 season has been a complete contrast to last season’s where crowds were restricted but still the fans come, and in their numbers.
The visitors on Friday night had kept their feint hopes of a Quarter-Final place alive by inflicting Surrey’s first defeat in any competition 24 hours before, but needed to win their last three games. After being put in to bat by Kent, they made hay in the late evening sunshine, hitting 77 off 8 overs before Ward was superbly run out for 33.
Momentum can change so quickly in cricket and Ward’s wicket was the catalyst for the collapse as Kent took two further wickets in 10 balls. When Ravi Bopara departed meekly for 7, the run rate had dropped from almost 10 to 8 per over. George Garton’s 16 ball 31 gave them a defendable total in the end, and when he was caught off the last ball of the innings, they had set Kent a target of almost exactly bang on 8 an over.
Kent’s problem this season (there’s been more than one but specifically in the T20s) has been giving away early wickets. Daniel Bell-Drummond had been dropped for Muyeye but his replacement went first ball on the fourth ball of the innings.
But that was the only blip in the Kent innings. Joe Denly first with Cox and then skipper Sam Billings kept the run rate around 9 an over as he hit a half century before departing for 58 with the score at 94 off 11 overs. The skipper played a measured innings, concentrating on the ones and twos to keep the run rate under control, whilst at the other end Linde hit the boundaries. The two added 40 in five overs to ease home with an over to spare.
It may have been a hollow victory in terms of progress in the competition for Kent but as a decent night out, there’s few venues that can top Canterbury on a Friday night.