Yes, indeed, I’m using that old football cliché for cricket, but it couldn’t be truer. It’s relevant to all sports. Hi there, me again, back for another edition of Canterbury Tales.
The last time you heard from me, Kent County Cricket Club were standing on the brink of qualification to the 2018 Vitality Blast Finals Day. Off the back of finishing as South Group runners-up. All that stood in our way, for the second time in four days, was Lancashire. Who made the long trip down to Canterbury for the quarter-final, last Thursday evening.
In last week’s Tales, I ranted and raved about how the Spitfires weren’t going to fail in typical fashion. How we were going to rise up to heroically defeat a strong Lancs side. Therefore gaining our revenge from 2015.
Well, rather unsurprisingly, I was wrong. I had been possessed by hopes and dreams of Sam Billings holding that trophy aloft at Edgbaston next month, and that made the manner of our last-eight defeat all the more worse.
Before we go into the nitty-gritty, the only surprise on the evening at the Spitfire Ground was that my good self hadn’t been in attendance. Given how much bad luck I have brought to my county this season, when attending matches. Hence I had been forced to stay away due to the awkward Thursday night scheduling of the historic matchup. Which just fuelled my expectation and belief in my team on our very own sticky wicket in Canterbury.
The Bad Start
Kent won the toss which isn’t always a good sign, and decided to bat first. A decision that would turn out to be the wrong one from captain Billings. Not for the first time in a big game this summer. As seemingly everyone in the cricketing world was so keen to point out ever and over again, ‘it’s always the same at Canterbury.’ The pitch looked good for batting, but in fact, it wasn’t.
This soon became more than apparent as, despite a fast start in terms of runs, in the summer in which we have equalled our T20 high-score of 231, the wickets started to tumble.
As Site Lead and opening batsman, Alex Whitington pointed out to me before the game, if the Spitfire Ground spins, the Spitfires will be in deep trouble. He couldn’t have been more correct.
Away spinners Matt Parkinson and Zahir Khan did most of the damage, both physically and mentally. Taking four wickets between them. All of them crucial. Removing numbers four, five, six and seven. The spine of Kent’s batting order. These were skipper Billings, (top-scorer with 37), in-form South African Sean Dickson, fresh from his stunning County Championship century in the victory over Leicestershire, overseas player Marcus Stoinis and hitman Alex Blake.
It’s The Hope That Kills You
As the wickets fell and I watched through my tear-filled eyes, the match was as good as gone. Caput. Over. Put to bed; whichever cliché you want to use. Or was it?
The tail wagged in some senses and from looking like we were barely going to limp over the 100-run mark, somehow, we managed to conjure up 133-9 from our 20 overs. From 77-6 after 11.4 overs, this was somewhat miraculous. Bowlers Calum Haggett and Imran Qayyum forcing the tale to wag, like an impatient dog owner. Here comes the hope.
The match was already over in my head. At stages, it reminded me of that scene from the Simpsons where the kids are telling Krusty the Clown to, ‘stop, stop, he’s already dead.’ However, getting up to 133, eerily close to the 142 that both teams were tied on here in 2015, had opened my mind back up. Giving me a cruel flash of hope all over again, ‘surely our bowlers can defend this, can’t they?’
The second ball of the Lancashire innings, ‘hoorah, we’re going to win, we’re going to win, Super Kent, Super Kent, Super Kent.’ (Sung rather like a football chant as my bemused girlfriend looked on.)
Jos Butler, straight out of the England Test side and into action on the unfamiliar South Coast, smelt the fresh air and decided to head back in. Stumped by Billings off a Joe Denly delivery (England selectors, again, are you watching)?
The Familiar Feeling Of Defeat
Of course, this gleeful start to the Lancs innings was another fresh dosage of false hope. Kent would only take three further wickets that evening. Hence wickets proving to be our downfall. As the butterflies continued to flutter in my stomach, my body filled with this fake expectancy, the visitors to the Spitfire Ground, remained behind the pace, until the final few overs.
Whilst my nails were being shredded, the opposition duo of skipper Dane Vilas and Jordan Clark guided their team to victory with eight balls to spare, by six wickets.
The dream was over and it had been slashed to bits right in front of our very eyes; in true Spitfires style. Like the Royal London One Day Cup final all over again. Kent losing a third consecutive T20 quarter-final.
The efforts of my county have to be lauded. Fighting back to make the game competitive and restore my belief, before it all came tumbling down. However I guess hats off to the Red Roses, (I say very bitterly), a combination of batting quality and the favourable nature of the pitch got you over the line.
We will come back next year in this competition, better and stronger than ever and we will win it! We probably won’t… but positive thoughts guys, positive thoughts.
Back To Real Cricket
Anyway, there is some consolation in all of this for Matt Walker’s men. The fact that we still have something to play for in cricket’s purest format, the Specsavers County Championship. This comes in the form of the possibility of promotion to Division One, something we have come so close to in recent years and were robbed of in 2016. But as I touched on last week, I’m not bitter.
This year, second is a promotion spot again and we had slithered up into it in this late stage of the season. Only to be overtaken by rivals Sussex last week falling to third. We are a mere nine points behind our southern rivals and are currently contesting an away clash with mid-table Derbyshire at the 3aaa County Ground.
And Billings’ team have made a strong start, winning the toss and unsurprisingly choosing to bat first. Led by more Denly heroics (a century); we are 365-6 at the end of day one.
After this one, there are just four matches left on the calendar for Kent and we will be switching our attention to the County Championship in Canterbury Tales from next week. Following the county’s promotion push from a totally non-biased standpoint (yeah right).
See you next week!