COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP FEATURE – Canterbury Tales lead to a hard day’s night for Middlesex
- Credit: Archant
The ice cream stall on the grass bank at Canterbury’s idyllic County Ground was doing a brisk trade as the sky above turned a deeper shade of blue with every over bowled.
Middlesex were on the road again, facing Kent in a day/night County Championship match on a sun-baked afternoon.
It was the sides’ first county clash since the visitors’ promotion from Division Two back in 2011 when an infamous match that summer saw 23 wickets fall on a single day’s play.
We weren’t far behind it in the last week of June seven years on.
But in the town Chaucer referenced in the Canterbury Tales, first the prologue in a Kentish heatwave.
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Many spectators savoured the warm weather by reclining on chairs on the gentle bank, lazing in the sun while the cricket commenced in front of them, heavy lidded eyes falling slowly shut.
With the welcome long hours of daylight available around the summer solstice there is a rare opportunity to entice the public to watch pink ball cricket after work in convivial surroundings.
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Given the vagaries of the English climate such a bold attempt to lure punters through the gate with the chance to watch First Class cricket in the evening it is difficult to tell whether the decision is bold or foolhardy.
The fact such an admirable idea also has to vie with the World Cup in attempting to attract the paying spectator – as opposed to those watching England rout Panama by tediously hurling alcohol in the air at number of beer gardens up and down the county if social media is anything to go by – means there are hard choices to be made by many sports fans.
However, if one were to move past the hyperbole of the Three Lions, and venture down to places such as the wonderful St Lawrence ground – or Scarborough where Yorkshire are hosting Surrey – they would see a large number of cricket aficionados relishing every minute of our summer sport.
The old oak tree in the outfield may be long gone here at Canterbury but the county has hosted cricket since a newspaper report recorded an 11-a-side match played for a wager of 11 guineas a man as far back as 1705.
Chaucer may have written about a bawdy pilgrimage from this town nearly a millennia ago but there are enough Canterbury Tales for everyone if one studies the stories played out on this historic ground.
The latest chapter would surely have chronicled the drama unfolding in the encroaching gloom on Monday evening – with many observers insisting the visitors were hard done by having to bat in such poor light citing the subsequent loss of nine wickets as proof of that.
With only a day’s rest between their previous county matches both sides would have every reason to feel aggrieved, not to mention a first class game arranged in the week of Kent’s one-day final, as well as extravagant swing and difficulties in following a dark pink ball with the clock approaching 10pm.
Yet the history of this match is the history of the game with plentiful tales spread over the 216 matches between the pair stretching across three centuries.
One look at the honours boards in the Colin Cowdrey Stand was enough to convince the visitor you can sense the spirit of every yeoman who has played the game.
Legends existed in ink and paint everywhere you cared to look – with the names on the list of double century makers in the middle floor of the well-appointed Cowdrey Stand.
Their names as redolent of the golden age of cricket as the number of outgrounds listed where they made their immortal scores.
Outgrounds that, sadly, have seen a significant amount disappear – lost to the march of time and no doubt a proper developer or two over the years.
It was good to see Kent honour their heroes.
Boards lauded Alan Knott and Derek Underwood, while the wonderfully aged Frank Woolley Stand, complete with a red phone box – sans phone – standing proudly as another reminder of a bygone age.
Yet it was one worth preserving under the gaze of the futuristic new floodlights benignly looking down – their use redundant on such a hot, bright afternoon thankfully.
Even if the late flurry of Middlesex wickets to fall saw many unhappy with the light despite the glare from the pylons as the evening wore on.
The Woolley Stand is full of character in it’s very brickwork and iron and its air of gentle decay seems not to detract from its essence but, rather add to it.
The pale cream hues blending perfectly with the setting sun and long shadows on the manicured outfield.
Middlesex came down the M2 to Kent on the back of a stirring, if improbable one wicket victory 48 hours previously up the M1 in Leicestershire after being set a challenging 381 to win in their second innings.
At the end of day three they still required 299 runs with only seven wickets remaining. But they overcame a spirited Grace Road attack to triumph on Saturday evening.
Kent for their part had Lord’s on their mind after fighting their way through to the Royal London one day final five days hence.
The club’s sterling work behind the scenes from such luminaries as Allan Donald as well as Matt Walker, Min Patel and Paul Downton deserving a mention in dispatches for transforming their one-day ambitions from harmless bystanders to genuine contenders.
Central to that have been up and coming players such as former Seaxes’ youngster Harry Podmore. The team also fielded former Middlesex batsman, Joe Denly, who nurtured a careful 37 to help solidify the score.
Podmore played his part on day one against his previous club leading a lower order renaissance with a jaunty 32 from 31 balls as Kent lurched from various precarious positions at 6-114 and 7-134 to rally somewhat, ending on 241 all out.
The total was also guided by a disciplined knock of 42 from Adam Rouse, who surely is another who has sealed his place in Saturday’s eagerly-awaited final.
The Middlesex bowlers toiled in the sun to make it a hard day’s night in a bid to establish a platform to win their second game on the road in a week, with James Fuller the pick of the bunch with 4-86 on a hot afternoon, where the occasional cooling breeze was as welcome as a cold drink.
Yet their reply with willow saw them subside to 19-3 after Grant Stewart claimed a trio of wickets to boast figures of 3-6 at one point before ending the day on 5-21, his best figures.
He listed as his victims former England opener Sam Robson – who sadly can’t buy many runs at the moment after he departed for two – and current England batsman Dawid Malan for a two ball duck.
Sandwiched between the two dismissals was the faintly ludicrous sight of the batsmen going for due to a ‘low sun’.
Only cricket offers the prospect of such lampoonery, but then only cricket beguiles the way it does as an impending twighlight was welcomed by many if not the unfortunate Robson who was out moments before.
As it was, the batsmen were soon back on the square, but only after the great and the good stood near the wicket scratching their heads pondering how they could move the sun.
Nobody much minded the World Cup, as play progressed to a 9.50pm daylight finish watched by a fair number of spectators who were still in attendance.
The final session enthralled as the visitors struggled on attempting to avoid losing further wickets as it became progressively more difficult to pick the ball out of the encroaching gloom.
An unimpressed Malan said afterwards it was like playing in two different room as Middlesex failed in their endeavours to keep a foothold in the match they had worked so hard to provide.
Bad light and a dark ball notwithstanding they ended the day with the whiff of a team that loses a game after one poor session – finishing nine down with only 54 on the board, in an echo of the infamous day seven years ago at Lord’s when an improbable 23 wickers fell on day one.
It was that sort of match. It was that sort of day.
Follow Layth on Twitter @laythy29