Hey there, good afternoon, how are you? Yes, it’s me again, back with another very special episode of Canterbury Tales. Where this week, we’ll be carrying on reviewing a fine summer for my beloved Kent, with part two of ‘The Big Kent Season Review.’
Did you miss me last week? Of course, you did. How ever did you cope without your weekly dosage of my Kent County Cricket Club ramblings? Well, I must apologise for my absence.
Without further ado, let’s crack on and make this edition the best yet! Where you left us two weeks ago was at the end of June in the 2018 cricket season. With the mighty Kent about to get cracking with the sexy Vitality Blast, below is the ultimatum I left you with.
‘Heading into the final three months of the season, we have enjoyed an excellent run in the One-Day Cup and are going very well in the County Championship. We will be back next week with part two. Will Kent taste the glory they so crave in the Blast? Can their promotion run continue? How will it all end? You’ll have to join us in part two to find out.
Or just Google it, your choice. Until next time.’
Today, I am going to answer those questions. Are you excited? Yes, I can tell. That’s why I’ve teased you with 255 words of waffling before the real stuff begins. Let the bat see the ball!
Hey There July(iah)
So, we pick up the rollercoaster story that is Kent’s 2018 at the beginning of July and on the back of a crushing defeat to Hampshire in the Royal London One-Day Cup Final at Lord’s. But we all know what July means, Blast time!
Yes, that’s right, the competition only enjoyed by cricket virgins and those on jolly ups, wallowing with their plastic pint glasses. And of course, us true ‘cricketers’ who may absolutely hate it, or do we just pretend? Probably.
Anyway before we go down that rabbit hole, in what was one of the hottest summers on record in the UK, Kent still somehow managed to have four 20-over matches abandoned due to rain.
First up in the competition was Surrey away. Good news for the Spitfires, a tight match ended in an incredible Joe Denly hat-trick and hundred-inspired victory! It was the same story just three days later when we visited Somerset. Winning by eight-wickets. We were on a roll.
In true Kent fashion, that hot streak came to an end the moment the eyes of the cricketing world beamed down on us. Sky Sports decided to broadcast the trip to Gloucestershire three days on. This Blast clash had been bizarrely moved to the afternoon from the evening due to England’s FIFA World Cup semi-final with Croatia taking place and while the nation prepared for another great disappointment, Kent too were edged out by five runs.
A Space Oddity
If this was any normal season, ‘Kentshire’ would now embark on a torrid run of form that would rule out any T20 hopes, but this wasn’t and we quickly recovered the following Friday, beating Hampshire by three runs and then having our home clash with Surrey rained off in a remarkable stroke of luck, after the visitors smashed 250 in the first innings.
That should have been a sign it would be our year in some capacity but Kent always find a way of bringing you back down to Earth and this came in the form of a thrashing at home to Leicestershire in the month’s only Specsavers County Championship encounter, the second of three defeats I would witness in the flesh last summer.
Another sign of my county’s wonderful resilience all summer was not letting our first Championship defeat in seven and abandoned matches against Sussex and Glamorgan get us down, that closing note is a wrap for July.
Cold Wind In August
As Kent continued to hunt a place in the Vitality Blast quarter-finals by finishing in the top four of the tricky South Group despite being winless in 20 days, August began with a pivotal ‘Battle of the Bridge’ T20 matchup.
For readers that don’t know and I will only ever explain this once (so listen up or click the little red X in the top right of your screen), ‘Battle of the Bridge’ refers to the rivalry between Kent and Essex. Due to the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, which acts as a border between the two counties.
The bragging rights would firmly remain in Kent on this occasion. With captain Sam Billings earning Player of the Match as we earned a comfortable victory. Before travelling to Hampshire the next night for double revenge in the form of a 51-run win; which included bowling them out for 88.
Once again, the mighty Spitfires were shooting down opponents like Messerschmitts during WW2 and I was ready to attend my third and final match of the summer, Gloucester at home in the Blast. Yes, that’s right, I went to one game in each format. How satisfying is that?! What could go wrong? Surely Kent wouldn’t lose three times in front of my very eyes in a highly-successful summer? Of course, they would! Losing by four wickets on a disappointing day in Canterbury. Frustration continued with another abandoned match five days later, at Hove.
Bed Of Roses Turns To Nails
From here, nothing was guaranteed. We had slipped off our perch atop the South Group. Only three victories in the remaining five days of the group stages would absolutely 100% seal qualification.
Three wins was what we got, home triumphs over Middlesex and Somerset. But we decided to beat Essex at Chelmsford in the penultimate delivery of the innings anyway. Finishing second in the group and level on points with Somerset.
This set Matt Walker’s men up with a shot of revenge at home to Lancashire in the last-eight. The opportunity to avenge the controversial defeat of three years earlier at the same stage. Not before a pleasing eight-wicket County Championship win up in Leicester. We barely had time to breathe after triumph at Grace Road, prior to trying to defeat the Red Rose to reach our first Finals Day since winning the thing in 2007.
However the less said about the quarter-final, the better. The Red Rose won. It was a low-scoring game. Blah, blah, yawn, yawn.
Never Had A Dream Come True
So, the T20 dream had faded and died for another year and much like in the other limited-overs competition of the summer, we had come so agonisingly close to glory. Oh the pain.
However, not absolutely everything was lost. As there was still the small matter of Kent’s County Championship Division Two promotion push. Consequently all the energy and focus was quickly transferred into this.
August ended with a tricky trip to face mid-table Derbyshire in a match that just ran into the first day of September. Sssssssshhhhhhh, we’re still including it in the August section, don’t tell anyone. With five games to go in the blissful four-day format, Billings’ Kent pulled victory out of the hat in the Midlands to boost the promotion dreams. What delights would the final month of the season bring?
Wake Me Up When September Ends…
Well, after the first day of the month as the weather began to turn nastier and kids started to dread going back to school, my adopted county were left with four must-win games if we wanted to return to the glories of Division One. Dizzy heights, dizzy heights.
It was simple, two of them were at home and two of them were away. Two of them were against promotion rivals and two were against teams at the wrong end of the table. Simple, right? As the nerves began to jangle each time Kent took to the field and I began to tune into BBC Radio Kent’s fantastic coverage of every ball of every match, daily, we started off with a comfortable 102-run win over Northamptonshire at the Spitfire Ground.
Phew, that was one of the poorer teams out the way. Now the trip to fellow promotion-chasers Middlesex at Lord’s. Where we were able to exercise our demons at the ground by coming away with a tense three-wicket win in the week veteran Darren Stevens penned his new contract, legend!
Actually Don’t Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go!
Okay, okay. We were now just one win, against bottom-of-the-table Glamorgan on home soil, away from promotion. A draw might have even done it as we sat a place behind Warwickshire in second and comfortably clear of Sussex in third, with those two counties facing off at Hove, in the penultimate matchday.
They were locked in a draw as the mighty Kent strode home to a glorious, glorious home win over the minnows. Getting the job done by an innings and 172 runs on day three, it was party time!
After eight long, hard years, we were returning to the promised land of Division One and it was a magnificent feeling. One of relief and joy. One that was complemented amazingly by the news of Denly deservedly receiving his first England Test call-up for the winter tour of Sri Lanka the next day.
There was just one thing left to decide. Who would win the Division as Kent entered the final game with main rivals Warwickshire tied on points at the top, both with 219 points? Yeah, that’s right, the hosts thrashed us in the title-decider at Edgbaston… Who cares? Get over it, we’re up anyway!!!
No sporting season is quite over until the fat lady sings and in our case, the fat lady comes in the form of the formalities of various end-of-season awards ceremonies and in the case of Kent’s, it was all about one man.
Joe Denly! Just days before being named in the PCA Team of the Year and winning the PCA Players’ Player of the Year, T20 Player of the Year and 50-over Player of the Year, he collected the county’s Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year and Batsman of the Year awards. Among the other big winners were deservedly skipper Billings, Heino Kuhn and top County Championship bowler Matt Henry. Marvellous!
Until Next Time…
Wow, it’s all over. We’ve come to the end of our two-parter ‘Big Kent Season Review’ and we hope that you’ve enjoyed looking back at what has been a historic season for Kent. One that will live long in the memory. Here’s to an even better 2019!
So, where do we go from here? Well, I’ll tell you where. Denly town, as over the next few weeks, we’ll be focussing solely on Joe Denly’s progress with the England ODI and Test squads in Sri Lanka. It’s going to be one hell of a ride for Canterbury Tales and you, our dear readers.
Until next time…