Kent bask in Nevill dominance with festival's future uncertain

Sussex 164 and 182 for 6 (van Zyl 78) need a further 322 to beat Kent 369 and 298 for 2 dec (Bell-Drummond 90, Dickson 74, Denly 71*)

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“There will be days and days and days like this,” says Susan Traherne at the end of Plenty, the film David Hare adapted from his own stage play. Susan is wrong; that final scene is a flashback and we know that her later life will be filled with unhappiness. All the same, as spectators watched Kent’s bowlers press hard for victory over Sussex on the third evening at Tunbridge Wells it would have been easy for them to echo Susan’s blamelessly optimistic sentiments as she looked over the French countryside. The ovations that greeted Matt Coles’ two early wickets and Joe Denly’s two late ones were also outpourings of pleasure from people grateful to be watching their sport at one of English cricket’s other Edens. And surely there will be more Sundays like this?

Such assumptions are dangerous. As reported in the Times on Friday, this game was nearly moved to Canterbury because of concerns about both the outfield and the pitch, the latter having flooded because of inadequate covering by employees of Tunbridge Wells council, the body which “owns” this ground. Hours of work by Kent’s groundstaff and members of the Tunbridge Wells club saved the Festival but it was a close-run thing and the county’s officials are clear they will not go through such a shemozzle again.

All of which may not have troubled some of those who had seen Kent’s batsmen do much as they wished with Luke Wright’s bowlers in the morning session. Sean Dickson had made 74 when he was leg before on the front foot to Danny Briggs. The batsmen looked down at his leg and back at the stumps when Peter Hartley gave his decision; perhaps he was regretting all those Friday afternoons when he dozed off during geometry lessons.

Daniel Bell-Drummond seemed set for a hundred when he inside-edged an attempted square-drive on to his stumps and departed with 90 runs against his name. At that point Kent were 188 for 2 but the real entertainment was to come as Denly and Sam Northeast scored 70 runs in 35 minutes before lunch. The crowd enjoyed this, too, although their pleasure was alloyed somewhat by the need to protect their strawberries and Sancerre from cricket balls travelling at ferocious velocities. Denly cleared the rope three times in successive overs as he and Northeast sought to pile up the sort of lead that would allow them to set very aggressive fields while giving Sussex nothing but a draw on their dance card. Thirty years ago the picnics may have been more modest – Scotch eggs and Blue Nun, perhaps – but no one doubted that the Tunbridge Wells festival would continue, rather as it had since 1901.

Northeast and Denly brought up their century partnership in 72 balls and the declaration was applied 20 minutes after the resumption. Sussex were challenged to score 504 to win and one or two Kent supporters may have pledged that they would breakdance in the Pantiles if Darren Stevens and his congregation of bowlers allowed this one to slip.

Immediately the self-respect of the Sevenoaks faithful, not to mention the ambience of Tunbridge Wells’ most stylish quarter, seemed secure. Harry Finch was leg before to a full delivery from Coles in the third over of the innings; ten minutes later Luke Wells played too early at a delivery from the same bowler and gave an shin-high return catch to the Maidstone mountain. Poor Wells, his misery seemed beyond conception. He dropped his bat, bowed his head in his hands and took longer to leave the ground than a substituted Premier League footballer when his team is winning 1-0 and there are moments to play.

Two balls later Chris Nash could offer his sympathy. His foot movement restricted by Adam Rouse’s decision to stand up to the stumps, the Sussex opener had his off stump knocked back and its bail broken by a good ball from Stevens which nipped away a shade. Sussex were then 8 for 3 and we were wondering whether we might be home before evensong.

It did not turn out that way. Partly this was because Wright hit Stevens’ more attacking deliveries for eight boundaries in 38 before he nicked a leg-side catch to Rouse off James Harris. More persuasively, however, it was explained by Stiaan van Zyl and Michael Burgess’ obduracy, the pair batting for 30 overs and deep into the evening session as they sought to make Kent fight for their points. Van Zyl’s shot selection was particularly impressive and he had made 78 off 134 balls when he was judged caught behind off Denly’s part-time offspin. To say that he was not pleased by Hartley’s decision does little justice to his apparent ire.

Next over, Chris Jordan collected a pair when he gave a gentle return catch to Denly and, once again, a three-day finish threatened. But David Wiese and Burgess batted stoutly through the final 11 overs and Burgess in particular will have gained more than 44 runs from his 157-minute innings. Kent’s victory, though, should be confirmed at some stage on Monday and one could wish that the future of cricket at the Nevill was as certain. One hopes, indeed, that the banks of dark asperatus cloud which encircled this sacred place in the late afternoon did not symbolise something.

There is clearly a need for all parties to talk and to do so soon. More responsibility should be given to Steve Niker and his staff at the Nevill; they would break their backs to ensure that the festival continues. It would be easy to demonise the local authority but they have pressing financial priorities and may wish to delegate to people who actually know something about cricket outfields and pitches.

On the other hand, Tunbridge Wells council may be under the misapprehension that they own this blessed plot. They do not; rather, they are the guardians of one of the finest cricket grounds in England and they are properly charged with the task of ensuring that the Nevill’s full glory is available to the next generation. Kent, meanwhile, are doubly blessed: “God or whatever means the good” has granted them the use of the St Lawrence and Nevill grounds; they must honour such gifts and do whatever they can to stay at both venues. Tunbridge Wells is a demi-paradise and we have seen so much good cricket this weekend. Surely there will be days and days like this?

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications

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Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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