Essex v Kent (day 1)

It has been a chilly overcast day (22 May 2013 for the record) but the rain held off and at least I’ve been to see my first cricket of the year, and in the process been reminded why I go.  I have a low boredom threshold but unlike some I don’t find cricket boring at all; on the contrary it’s the most relaxing thing I do, and I always feel calmer, less stressed and more in touch with myself when I’ve been to watch a day’s play.   It should be compulsory!!

Ah, but I have written before about why I enjoy cricket, so this time I’ll explain more about the day.  First things first: for 6 hours or 96 overs of county championship play (whichever is longer) it costs £1 7, where for football you get 90 mins plus Fergie time for  £20-60, depending where you go.  Speedway now costs much the same and the action probably lasts no more than 15 minutes all in.  On VFM county cricket is great – shame T20 is overpriced!

Granted that cricket is not continuous action, but it certainly keeps you entertained, and there’s so much more to see.  At various times during the day I was puzzling over the advertising hoardings, watching the cranes on a nearby building site, and watching birds hopping along the outfield.  But most of all I was enjoying the cricket, which, as in all cricket games, ebbs and flows.  It went in spells favouring one side, then the other, which is what you would hope for!

Early on day one things move slowly.  This is natural, given that the new ball will be zipping about, the batsmen will be getting their eye(s) in and the bowlers will be finding line and length.  For the first10 overs there was a lot of shouldering arms until batsmen Westley and Mickleburgh found their range, whereupon scoring shots perked up.  The highlight before lunch were bails flying as strike bowler Mark Davies bowled Westley for a hard-fought 30. Nevertheless, lunch was taken at a conservative 69-1.

Meanwhile, I had already started nibbling at the lunch I had brought, namely quiche lorraine and a pot of beetroot salad, followed by an apple and Double Decker bar.  Why I forgot the crisps I have no idea, but there you go.  It was supplemented by a pint of Kentish Smooth from the bar, always welcome at a cricket game, though why Essex should be supporting the opponents I can’t imagine.  Come to think of it, a fair proportion of the Essex team seem to have been born in Kent too!

Fortunes swung around after lunch, starting immediately as England batsman Ravi Bopara aimed a feeble poke towards gulley and was caught out to Davies again.  Ten Doeschate and Foakes followed rapidly back to the pavilion for 1 and 0 respectively to the delightfully named Charlie Shreck, who has undoubtedly heard all the jokes, then some.  It looked like Essex were in meltdown, though a solid pair were now at the crease.

I say solid, but Mark Pettini flatters to deceive.  Judging from his defensive technique and occasionally flowing attacking shot, you’d think he was destined for a great career.  Sadly not, for I’ve yet to see him make more than 24 before a good ball undoes him.  So it was here: a mini-revival saw him make 16 before missing with a loose swish and rapped on the pad for a straightforward LBW.

However, captain and wicketkeeper James Foster kept his head (and strangely enough, his opposite number is captain of Kent, namely Geraint Jones.)  Foster is known to pundits as a “knurdler” – a batsman who squirts the ball out for ones and twos where the fielders aren’t, though he is quite capable of playing shots.  Like all wicket keepers he is slim but wiry, in stark contrast to the towering fast bowlers, long of leg and lean of body, but Foster is decidedly nimble and well-organised.  He struck a solid 47, but played second fiddle to stocky hitter Graham Napier.

Napier is by trade a quickish bowler, but known primarily for feats of hitting – especially his memorable 152 not out off 58 balls in a T20 game, including a record 16 sixes. His dashing blade has helped Essex on many occasions, though in fairness he does play his way in and has more to his game than mere slogging – but as a stroke-player he is much loved by the crowd, invariably the one people want to see.

Worth saying something about the art of batting, since there is science as well as brute force.  The most elegant strokes can be beautifully timed and fire off the bat to the boundary with seemingly minimal effort.  Time it badly and the ball may trundle a few yards to the nearest fielder, in spite of the fearsome crack of willow on leather and the massive heave-ho given by the batsman.  Some batsmen lug a huge heavy bat, which can carry the ball over the line even when it’s not timed, but the best can make even defensive prods carry all the way.  Napier is a hitter rather than an artist, and when he connects the balls stays firmly hit.  This time he hit 58, which for a no 8 batsman is pretty good, and here saved his team from ignominy.

Essex were finally all out for 212, leaving Kent a few overs to bat out in the only sunshine of the day, which they did, uncomfortably, to the bowling of David Masters and Reece Topley, a young 6ft 7in beanpole of a left-arm seamer.

So, not a bad day’s play, fair entertainment and Andy leaving for home somewhat more relaxed than when I started.

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