A clash of centuries

T20. Kent v Somerset. 20th July 2019. Canterbury.

Kent. D.J. Bell-Drummond (c), Z. Crawley, O.G. Robinson (w), Mohhamad Nabi, A.J. Blake, S.R. Dickson, J.M. Cox, A.F. Milne, G.C. Viljoen, Imran Qayyum, F.J. Klaassen. 

Somerset. Babar Azam, T. Banton (w), P.D. Trego, J.C. Hildreth, T.B. Abell (c), T.A. Lammonby, R.E. van der Merwe, C. Overton, J. Overton, M.T.C. Waller, J.E. Taylor. 

Toss. Kent. Elected to bat.

A clash of centuries

The dog rose which so bedevilled my attempts to follow the Glamorgan match, I can report, refrained from re-joining the fray during the Kent match. Not that at the moment it is in a state to join any fray. That was as well for it meant I could watch the match on my laptop without fear of being irretrievably entangled if I let my concentration wander.

I was unable to travel to Canterbury so decided to watch the cricket on my laptop. Of course, watching cricket on a laptop wasn’t quite as simple as I had so innocently assumed it would be. Anyone remotely familiar with my reports will be well-versed in the disasters I occasionally suffer as a consequence of my inability to engage with the 21st century, not least with the incomprehensible labyrinthine complexities of its technology. Like trying to log in for pay-as-you-go access to cricket hidden behind a paywall. And it isn’t as if I haven’t bought access to a day’s cricket before. I have, but therein it seems lay the problem.

“Enter email and password.” Done. “Email or password not recognised.” Enter email and password again. “Email or password not recognised.” Click ‘forgotten password’. “Enter email.” Enter email. “Email not recognised.” Enter email again. “Email not recognised.” I have only ever used one email address to watch cricket. That one. Emit oath. Adopt plan B. Register as new user. “Enter email”. Enter email. “This email address is already registered.” Enter email again. “This email address is already registered.” Refrain from throwing laptop into remains of dog rose as dog rose has suffered enough and laptop needed to watch cricket. Look at online scorecard. Kent 8 for 2 after two overs. Missed two Kent wickets! Emit simultaneous oath and cheer. Register with back-up email address long since set up to combat 21st century technological logic. “Choose password.” Tempted but refrain. Choose polite password. Enter card details. Card details recognised at speed of light. Money flies from bank account quicker than a Banton six leaves the bat. Money talks in the 21st century as much as in any other. Click on what looks like a picture of a T20 match. Third over has just cost Somerset 14 runs. But at least we are there.

‘There’ is the land of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Written in the 14th century. I lived there once. In the land of the Canterbury Tales that is. Not the 14th century. It was during the days of my second exile, somewhere near the middle of the 20th century, when all cricket balls were red and the players were always dressed in white rather than the other way around. I only managed to see one Somerset match during those times. A Gillette Cup semi-final. Somerset lost of course. It was at Canterbury after all. And now, 45 years on, when T20 has replaced the 60-over game as the premier ‘one-day’ form of the game Somerset never win a T20 match at Canterbury. There are 31 pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales. I will wager not one of them was a Somerset supporter confidently on the way to watch a T20 match at Canterbury. Not even the Wife of Bath.

But one lives in hope and Kent 8 for 2 after two overs, even 22 for 2 after 3 three, brought hope. Not just to me but to the person watching with me. He has lived half his life in the 21st century and seems to understand it. “When did you last use your log-in details?” he asked. “Just over a year ago.” “That might explain why you couldn’t log in. They probably closed your access after a year of not using the site.” Such is 21st century logic. Wait until Somerset are on television for a match I can’t get to and then close off the access to my account. Don’t they know I only watch Somerset matches? Come to think of it they probably do. At least they had the good grace to show a replay of the excellent catch Hildreth had taken low down at slip to remove Bell-Drummond off Taylor.

As the two of us settled so it seemed did the Kent batsmen. Not so much the Somerset bowlers especially against Mohammad Nabi. In successive overs he despatched Taylor and Craig Overton for six. “Both those balls were in the slot,” said my cricket-playing co-watcher. He uses a brute of a bat in club cricket and once damaged three cars with the same six so I suppose he would know. He couldn’t have done that with a 20th century bat. Progress I suppose. Taylor’s over went for 17, you can do that with a 21st century bat, and Kent were fast repairing the early damage. “Craig Overton and Taylor do better when they bowl short of a length,” said the cricket-player. 54 for 2 from six overs was followed by the, now mandatory, T20 five-run over from van der Merwe.

Five-run van der Merwe overs build pressure. Attempting to release the resulting pressure against Waller is, more often than not, a strategy fraught with danger. Nabi hitting him for six once, Waller absorbed. When he tried again off the next delivery the ball gained more height than distance. More distance though than van der Merwe had been positioned to accommodate for. It resulted in a typical piece of van der Merwe fielding. He ran hard for the ball. Backwards. He couldn’t quite keep up and as the ball attempted to fall to Earth he leapt furiously, backwards, and, spectacularly, got hand to ball. From there, deserted by decorum, overtaken by the force of gravity but still attached to the ball, he crashed to Earth whilst at the same time preventing the ball from doing the same. No-one should really be surprised. It is how van der Merwe does these things but please do not try it at home. 68 for 3. Nabi gone for a dangerously developing 34.

Like Gregory, Abell, captaining the side in Gregory’s absence with the England Test squad, likes to rotate his bowlers. He did so here, perhaps in line with a Somerset policy in T20 of largely single over spells. For Kent, Robinson took the lead with a boundary an over, once two, whilst Blake settled himself and the pair rotated the strike virtually every ball. Nine an over for four overs the result with Kent reaching 106 for 3 after 12 overs just as Robinson brought up a debut T20 fifty. “If he’s on debut,” said the cricket player, “he won’t last much longer.” But 106 for 3 with eight overs remaining held out the possibility of, to use that 21st century piece of spinning management-speak, a ‘challenging’ target. The 20th century ‘difficult’ seems to capture it rather better to my mind. It is the sort of score that is often a pivotal point in a match. Somerset needed a bowler with the technique and nerve to tilt the Kent innings Somerset’s way.

At the crunch of the innings Abell chose the barely 19-year-old Tom Lammonby to bowl his left arm medium pace. Abell’s bowling changes so often reap rewards. Lammonby kept Kent to just three runs. Three runs in the 13th over of a T20 innings with the innings in the balance builds pressure. For the second time in the innings the bowler who built the pressure took the catch off the bowler who benefited from it. Blake drove Taylor straight to Lammonby at mid-off. 109 for 4. Blake 12. When Taylor beat the bat and ‘yorked’ Banton behind the stumps the ball went for four byes. “That would have been straight into Davies’ gloves and no-one would have thought anything of it,” said the cricket player.

Almost immediately Lammonby reaped his own reward. Dickson, off his fourth ball, tried to scoop Lammonby but directed the ball into Banton’s gloves. Kent 116 for 5 in the 15th over. The debutant was playing a crucial role. In addition to the wicket just five runs from the over. Now Abell set van der Merwe on Kent as the pressure built. The Kent debutant, Robinson, came down the pitch to him, van der Merwe pulled the ball back, spun it past the outside edge and Banton had the bails off. No issue with his keeping there. Kent 122 for 6 in the 16th over. Robinson had perhaps lasted a little longer than the cricket player had thought he might but the supply of runs had dried up. Just three from nine balls since he reached 50 as Somerset began to get a grip on the Kent innings.

The last four overs of the innings consisted of cut and thrust, ebb and flow, fury and farce. In other words a typical T20 late overs melee in which the two sides grapple with each other in an attempt to tilt the game their way. 40 runs off the final four overs probably suited Kent more than three wickets suited Somerset. Lammonby, whose first two overs had cost, in T20 terms a miniscule eight runs, conceded 27 off his last two. Bowling the 17th and the 19th overs, when Craig Overton still had one unused over, was perhaps an ‘ask’ too far for a 19-year-old. Van der Merwe helped tip the balance a little Somerset’s way with two wickets for two runs in the 18th over. A furious attempt at a drive from Cox only succeeded in lofting the ball to Jamie Overton at long on with the inevitable result. And then Milne, hinting at farce, ‘scooped’ the ball into his stumps. And perhaps appropriately for van der Merwe is himself a master of farce on the cricket field. But farce which masks his ability to strike hard, with bat, ball or in the field. Modern cricket needs its van der Merwes, for their myriad 20th century counterparts are missed.

So, with the help of a pair of lofted straight drives from Milne, a six pulled behind square by Qayuum, both off Lammonby, and a slog-swept six from Viljoen off the penultimate ball of the innings off Taylor, 165 for 9 it was. Perhaps 20 below par, the pundits’ view. Although, crucially, the pundits hedged their bets with, “But defensible.”

The tension of a match you can feel when watching cricket on a screen. The atmosphere of a ground and a crowd you cannot. You can sometimes see it and you can hear it but you cannot feel it. The reverberation, through the senses, of the music if you are actually at a T20 match, the pummelling of the head from the thunderous announcements, the wall of sound of a T20 home crowd cheer and the constant movement of people around the ground and in and out of seats is lost. It is not everyone’s cup of tea or pint of beer but I miss it when I am not there.

If you watch cricket at Canterbury from the Frank Woolley Stand you can see a marked slope downwards to the left towards the new lime tree. I wondered if it accounted for Babar, bowled through ‘the gate’ by Viljoen as he came forward at the start of the Somerset innings. The ball moved off the pitch, down the slope, inside the bat and into the stumps. That you could see that perfectly, close up, on screen in a way you never could if you were at the match. As with life so with cricket; the 21st century has some compensations.

Banton has been at the forefront of Somerset’s white ball cricket this year. He has played some tremendous innings and has ‘looked the part’ from the start. In this innings, on the screen at least, he did not seem to have quite the consistency of touch or fluency that fuelled those earlier innings. The intent was there but the execution seemed out of synch, to use a 21st century term. Perhaps better than the 20th century ‘touch’. In the first over he stepped across his stumps and attempted to scoop but the ball went through to the keeper. Klaassen he struggled to get away at first. When he tried to pull a short ball he missed it altogether. “Too early on the stroke,” thought the cricket player. There was though evidence of Banton’s potential. A cut off Klaassen. A cover drive off Milne, “That really flew,” said the cricket player but overall Banton seemed to be battling to make headway. It did not entirely surprise when he drove Qayyum’s slow left arm and was caught at long off for 28.

Somerset were 54 for 2 from seven overs. 112 needed from 13. Less than nine an over but rising. Over eight an over was unthinkable when I watched that semi-final in 1974. It is commonplace in T20. Trego, who had come in at the departure of Babar, immediately put himself to keeping the score moving. His first ball, from Viljoen, he pulled to fine leg for four. When Quyyam bowled too short he cut mercilessly for another four. But when he and Hildreth found themselves restricted to exchanging singles the required rate began to rise. With 12 overs to go it touched nine. The sort of tension a rising required rate engenders you can feel as well sitting in an armchair as you can on a green plastic fold-up seat in the Woolley Stand.

As so often in T20 a rising rate brings a wicket. Trego, on 20 from 15 balls, swept Qayyum’s slow left arm hard but did not keep the ball down. He was caught on the square boundary by Cox running in, diving hard forward with arms far outstretched. It was a stunning catch with only Cox’s fingers between the ball and the grass. Oddly you can see that as well at a match as you can on the screen unless you are behind the fielder. Somerset were 61 for 3, still 105 short.

That catch may have been the pivotal point in the match. Within two balls Hildreth, trying to turn Quyyam square, was bowled by a quicker ball. You could see that only too well on the screen. It was Qayyum’s third wicket. He was in just his second over. In the next over, Abell called Lammonby through for a sharp, perhaps too sharp, second run as the fielder made ground on the ball. Lammonby hesitated. It was all it took for the stumps to be broken before he could make his ground. Runs are taken under such pressure in T20 that ‘he who hesitates’ can truly be lost. Pressure takes wickets and the pressure Qayyum’s wickets had created was telling hard on Somerset.

And so was Qayyum. He induced a leading edge from van der Merwe which Nabi intercepted. He induced a bottom edge from Abell which flew straight down, into the ground, spun back, was taken brilliantly by Robinson behind the stumps with Abell still following through the stroke and out of his ground. It was one of the more bizarre stumpings you will see and Qayyum had taken five wickets in 18 balls for 14 runs. “An awful lot of balls have gone under the bat,” observed the cricket watcher. “Skidding through,” he thought.

Suddenly, it seemed, Somerset were 74 for 7, still 92 short and now needing over ten an over. The match, short of a miracle, was over. A tenth successive T20 defeat against Kent beckoned for Somerset, forged on the back of a Kent score which was perhaps better than it had looked but fashioned by an outstanding spell of slow left arm bowling from Qayyum which the Somerset batsmen could not negotiate under the pressure of a rising required run rate.

That left the Overton brothers surveying the wreckage of the innings. They are not without ability with the bat and they set about some repair work. They have a well-deserved reputation for being able to clear the boundary and then some. But they can also play a longer game. Here they opted to establish themselves by pushing the ball about for singles and the occasional two. Once Jamie lofted the ball to long off for four. By their diligence they stopped the flow of wickets but at the cost of slowing the flow of runs. Inevitably the required rate rose.

When it passed 12 with Somerset still nearly 70 short an assault on the bowling could not be delayed if Somerset were to retain even a glimmer of hope. Jamie Overton struck successive boundaries off Klaassen but when he tried to clear the boundary the ball did not quite have the carry. Nabi set off after the ball and caught it over his shoulder. His foot was perhaps an inch, no more, from the boundary marker as he took the ball with his momentum threatening to carry him out of play. Seemingly in defiance of the laws of physics he stopped, held his ground, his foot did not move, neither did the boundary marker. Catch! Overton 19. Here the television coverage came into its own. It gave a perfect view of Nabi’s foot stopping and the boundary marker remaining unmoved.

The Kent bowling had been claustrophobic throughout the Somerset innings, and the Somerset batsmen had simply not coped with Qayyum. 165, seemingly below par at the outset, had turned out to be a mountain which Somerset could not climb. With eight down, Taylor and Waller found the boundary but they could not withstand Kent for long and Craig Overton who ended on 19 not out did not seem able make sufficient progress. Milne went through a drive from Taylor with a yorker and Klaassen went through Waller with a low full toss. Somerset had lost by 41 runs and my laptop suddenly threatened to close itself down because I had forgotten to plug it in. “Oh, for the 20th century,” I shrieked, “The television was never unplugged, the cricket was always on it and you didn’t have to enter into an endless circular debate with it about email addresses and passwords to persuade it to let you watch.” As to the 21st century cricket player, he was just shaking his head.

Result. Kent 165 for 9 (20/20 overs) (O.G. Robinson 53 (49 balls), Mohammad Nabi 34 (20), R.E. van der Merwe 3-19 (econ 4.75), M.T.C. Waller 2-24 (8.00), J.E. Taylor 2-34 (8.50). Somerset 124 (18.3/20 overs) (Imran Qayyum 5-21 (5.25), A.F. Milne 2-15 (4.28), G.C. Viljoen 2-36 (9.00). Kent won by 41 runs. Kent 2 points. Somerset 0 points.