A testimonial to good cricket

T20 South Group. Kent v Somerset. 16th August 2018. Canterbury.

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.” Robbie Burns knew a thing or two. Ask any Somerset supporter. Or consider my attempts to keep up with proceedings at Canterbury where Somerset were trying to hold on to top spot in the T20 Competition South Group in the last round of group matches…

Somerset won the toss and elected to field.

West Somerset to East Kent is too far to travel for a group stage T20 match. So someone bought me a ticket to Marcus Trescothick’s Testimonial Dinner in the 1875 Club which was being held at the same time as the match. I don’t have a smart phone but the person who bought me the ticket was thoughtful enough to send me with someone who does. And then it was announced the match would be televised…

Never mind. I may not get another chance to go to a Trescothick Testimonial dinner. Who knows what I will be doing in 2028. Whereas Somerset can beat Kent anytime…

So off we went and arrived for pre-match, sorry, pre-event drinks in the Stragglers. I have long since concluded that a cricket supporter in search of a score is probably best appeased. The organisers had obviously come to the same conclusion because the match was being shown on the screens and civil unrest was avoided through assurances being quickly given that the screens in the 1875 Club would be on throughout the dinner.

It soon became apparent that cricket supporters can multi-task, at least this one can. Half an eye, or as much as could be spared, on the screen and one and a half plus two ears on the conversation became the order of the evening. Since the person I went with and the people with whom I subsequently shared a table were engaged in the same dual-purpose endeavour we had the perfect combination of a highly entertaining evening and the usual purgatory of watching Somerset play cricket.

It is an odd sensation when you are following a cricket match in a bar without being able to devote your entire attention to it. I missed a lot of the detail: the quick run singles, the brilliant bits of fielding, the bowlers running in. Some of the spectacular fours and any sixes the eye somehow seemed to home in on without being directed. The wickets of course you do tend to see because they are followed by a gasp or a comment by someone else with half an eye on the match and you look up in time to see the replay.

What I did get, trying to follow a cricket match in this way, was a sense of the ebb and flow of the game. The absence of the fine detail seemed to take nothing away from the broader picture. I don’t recall a single ball of Waller’s first over. What stands out in the memory is the overall blanket of austerity imposed on the batsmen by the endlessly unfathomable colour and variety of an over of his bowling. Five for no wicket at the end of his opening over sticks in the mind because that is what the score always is at the end of Waller’s first over. Except when it is a maiden.

That was followed by a growing sense that the Kent batsmen were starting to run away with things as the Somerset pace bowlers took some punishment. I kept my half an eye on the screen, reduced the allocation focused on the person I was talking to one and allocated the other half to watching the rest of the bubbling throng. I was not the only one sneaking a peek at the screen.

Most balls I didn’t see but my half an eye tended to catch the more spectacular, those that bisected or flew over the powerplay infield before crossing the deserted boundaries. At a distance, and with half an eye, the score is difficult to follow because it sits discreetly among a number of other figures at the bottom of the screen. Eventually I took a determined look. After five overs Kent were 58 for 0. Kent were indeed running away with things.

And then a wicket. It was hard to miss a wicket. However interesting the conversation someone will always spot the fall of a wicket and emit a gasp of anguish or relief depending on which side is batting. Even I, in full flow explaining to someone that I saw Trescothick score a brilliant 70 odd at Worcester, picked up that a wicket had fallen. 67 for 1 with still a ball of the powerplay to come wasn’t exactly riches but it was a start. Taylor the bowler, expensive but a wicket at least, and Denly, back in the dugout, looking irritated with himself.

There was no sound with the pictures but when someone whispered, “Bell-Drummond!” you knew someone had got him. Both eyes to the screen. Waller celebrating. 78 for 2 in the eighth over. Hopefully that might slow them a bit I thought and then back to discussing Trescothick’s innings at Worcester.

You knew the inevitable would come at some point, it always does. We were all requested to go upstairs to the 1875 Club to find our table. In the middle of an over. I ask you. We found our table, waited politely for the others allocated to it to arrive and then took our seats. That I had a perfect view of the Trescothick Stand for the entire evening seemed somehow appropriate. That I was enjoying myself to the extent that I absent-mindedly selected a seat with the back of my head facing both screens showed a certain lack of judgement. Foresight in future Farmer. Foresight please.

Trying to watch anything on the screen immediately behind my head was like trying to impress the examiner in a driving test that you really were looking all the way round whilst reversing. Just as uncomfortable and impossible to do furtively. At least I assume they still inflict that on people in driving tests. I took mine before Trescothick was born. Apparently modern cars have cameras facing backwards so you can see the low wall you have just reversed into.

It wasn’t a much less a painful experience watching Kent racking up runs at Canterbury, which incidentally is where I took my driving test during one of my exiles. Except I couldn’t exactly watch the runs. So in between conversations about Somerset’s record against Kent in the T20, calculations about run rate in the event of Kent winning and other things Somerset cricket I allocated the half an eye I had had on the screen in the Stragglers to watching the faces of people who had allocated half of one of their eyes to watching the screen in the 1875 Club.

It is amazing what you can learn from watching someone’s face when they are taking periodic peeks at a match in which you and they are desperately interested. Especially when a wicket falls. The head, at least of anyone who was sneaking a look at the screen at the time, jerks slightly back and, unless it is a Somerset wicket, a smile spreads. As soon as the head went back I risked a peek in the rear-view mirror. No-one seemed to mind. Waller again. 107 for 3 in the 12th. Kuhn gone. Somerset pegging Kent back just a little.

We were into the actual dinner now. Not so easy to follow the cricket when everyone, including you, is thoroughly enjoying a good dinner. It dawned on me after a while that no one had signalled a wicket for some time. Back I went into reversing mode. 16.3 overs. Kent 170 for 3. Ouch! It took a while of staring at the screen to fully register it.

Immediately Blake hit Taylor for four. And we were supposed to be enjoying ourselves, the owner of the redundant smartphone and I. Well, we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, if truth be known, at the event in the 1875 Club. The problem was things were pretty painful in the parallel universe being relayed to us on the screens. “Eyes back to the front. Check what is happening in front of you,” I heard my old driving instructor say.

If I just turned my head slightly over my left shoulder rather than all the way around I could see the screen at the far end of the room. It was a disconcerting experience because every time I did I could hear my old driving instructor in the back of my head, “Look all the way round!”

The far screen was a long way off but close enough to see Overton take the most outrageous boundary catch running right along, and as near on as could be without overstepping, the boundary and staying inside by what feat of balance I know not. Close enough too to see a lot of drying of a wet ball, Taylor bowl two high full tosses and be taken off, and then Overton bowl another as they strove to control what probably resembled a bar of wet soap to complete the over.

“Penalty runs,” someone said. I looked at the clock on the Colin Atkinson Pavilion. 7.25 it said as if in confirmation for the match had started at 7.00. A rear-view swivel for a closer look but there was only confusion on the screen. Eventually six were added to the Kent score. 210 for 5. Then the final over from van de Merwe. Two sixes I saw, all thoughts of furtiveness had gone, 21 from the over, the final score of 231 for 5 suggested Kent had got away from Somerset again at the end. Indeed, Taylor and Overton, against their recent form, had gone for 99 runs in seven overs as Kent used their pace on an excellent batting pitch.

Somerset started dessert with two fours from Davies and a skier from Myburgh which I managed to pick up on the far screen. “Look all the way round,” said the driving instructor. 15 for 1 in the third over according to the screen behind me. No need to look at the numbers on the screen or do a calculation to know the required run rate was rising.

The dessert brooked no resistance and the cricket chat rolled on, and so I must confess the happenings on the screens rather floated by me for a while. One stolen glance at a Calum Hagget over on the far screen showed the ball flying nicely to the boundary as Trego twice, then Davies connected. 73 for 1 after seven overs as I checked behind me. Not quite up with the rate but within range and wickets in hand. Perhaps this would not be the walkover Kent’s 231 for 5 had suggested.

Interview and question time hereabouts. Nick Compton first, then him with Marcus Trescothick. This was a challenge to match my driving test all those years ago. Somerset fighting to end half a decade of defeats against Kent with one of Somerset’s top three batsmen of the last decade due in next and the other two about to speak in front of us. It did indeed test the concentration but proved beyond doubt that, where cricket is concerned at least, I can multi-task.

Two class batsmen and two screens to watch. I turned my chair so I had a view of all four. Unfortunately, I have only been fitted with two eyes. I have to confess to never having read Origin of the Species so I may be wrong but it did seem to me that the evolution of homo sapiens took no account of the requirements involved when Testimonial Dinners and Somerset matches take place at the same time. Is nothing made properly these days?

I have to confess too that my concentration was more on the two batsmen in front of me than on the two on the screens. You can’t miss two key wickets in two overs though. Trego and Davies caught in the deep trying to keep what was a determined run chase on track. 91 for 3 in the 10th over. A very large mountain to climb but with Hildreth and Anderson now in there was hope that it might just be done.

So, we had Hildreth and Anderson in partnership on the screens and Trescothick and Compton in partnership at the front of the room. All the while the exploits of the left and right handers on the screen were played out in the background like some distant cricket match being played on the far side of a valley. Meanwhile the left and right handers at the front of the room held the attention with stories, opinions, chat and cricketing banter with all the ease of a couple of seasoned campaigners.

I became vaguely aware of sixes crossing the darkness of the night sky in Canterbury as some light still held on in the home skies above the Trescothick and Botham Stands. What sixes those skies have seen pass above those two stands I thought; and not least from one of those now holding the floor between duplicate visions of distant Canterbury on the screens.

However engrossed you are you just have to look for the score at some point. You just do. I did a surreptitious blind spot check at the near screen, all that was necessary after I had turned my chair to watch the speakers, and got Anderson out. Why is someone always out just as you check Somerset’s score? I should really know better by now. Better not to know the score than to take a Somerset wicket surely. But you can’t not know the score so you take the wicket. Now please don’t criticise. We’ve all done it.

Anderson had launched a huge skier which seemed to be reaching so high it might have had a message for the gods attached. If so the message fell into the wrong hands, namely the gloved hands of Billings, Anderson gone.

Too soon I thought. 232 was a very long way off but whilst absorbed in what was being said at the front I had totally missed the speed at which Hildreth had been scoring. Some of those sixes had been his. 138 for 4 in the 13th over with less than 100 needed suddenly seemed just about possible or perhaps the atmosphere of the Trescothick testimonial dinner and the presence of the man himself made anything seem possible on a cricket field.

A corner of my eye took unilateral action and focused itself on two numbers at the bottom of the screen. ‘Runs required’ and ‘balls remaining’. Nothing I did would coax it away so I left it to itself and focused the rest of my eyes and all of my ears on the chat and the questions. I willed the chat at the front to go on, ‘balls remaining’ to stand still and ‘runs required’ to plummet. As it was ‘balls remaining’ plummeted whilst in comparison ‘runs required’ seemed to have a parachute now that Anderson was gone.

“Hildy’s gone,” someone said as a question was asked of Trescothick from the floor. “How?” “Got under a high full toss,” someone whispered in reply. Laughter all around. At Trescothick’s answer to the question from the floor that is not at the loss of Hildreth. That was serious. The replay wasn’t clear. The full toss looked high but Hildreth was bending backwards under it to play the stroke. The corner of my eye reported in on the score. 162 for 4. 70 needed from 21 balls. Impossible.

No-one had told Gregory it was impossible. As the questions and answers passed to and fro Gregory’s bat did the same through and across the line of the ball. The corner of the eye sometimes caught the intensity in Gregory’s face, sometimes the audacity of his stroke, sometimes the soaring of the ball but, as the rest of the eyes and the ears took in the conversation between Trescothick and Compton and between them and the floor, the corner struggled to keep up with those two oh so crucial numbers.

Then it followed a ball as it descended down the screen heading for a Gregory six straight on to ‘runs required’ 41, ‘balls remaining’ 12. I had no idea how many Gregory had scored but it seemed he had scored an impossible number and had an impossible number still to get. When someone tries to do the impossible it tends to catch the eye. Or at least I upgraded from a quarter to a whole eye leaving the other one to watch for          answers to the final couple of questions from the floor.

The 19th over seemed to go on interminably as overs always do at moments of high tension. They go on even longer with wides, no balls, Gregory and Abell sending balls to the boundary, and Trescothick’s answer to the last question of the evening being as perfectly timed as one of his cover drives. It was a lot for a simple supporter to take in. Impossible now to recall the detail with one eye focused on the cricket and the other on the front of the room but I do remember 18 were needed off the final over.

A thank you and a genuinely warm round of smiling applause for Trescothick and Compton for it had been that sort of evening: great cricket talk, great cricket fun, great Somerset cricket food and, if you could spare the corner of an eye, great Somerset cricket. Perfect.

Oh yes and Somerset lost by five runs out of 458 after Gregory and Abell had scored 64 in the last three and a half overs. The difference between the sides being the six run time penalty given to Somerset, or the one not given to Kent depending on your viewpoint. You don’t get much closer than that and you won’t get a better cricketing evening.

Result: Kent 231 for 5 (20 overs) (SW Billings 57*(35 balls), AJ Blake 42(22), Bell-Drummond 37(21), MTC Waller 2-29 (econ 7.25), JE Taylor 2-52(15.60). Somerset 226 for 5 (20 overs) (SM Davies 45(25), JC Hildreth 45(27), L Gregory 44*(15). Kent won by 5 runs. Kent 2 points. Somerset 0 points.

This report was first posted on grockles.com on 26th August 2018.