Today’s article comes courtesy of cricket poet Marco Jackson. He’s been following Kent over recent weekends and has spotted several signs suggesting something special’s brewing down south. Does that pass for an acceptable alliteration, Marco?
The following piece comes in two stages: a love letter to Kent in general, and then a tribute to Daniel Bell-Drummond, a player who has really caught Marco’s eye. Enjoy folks …
That team you can hear throwing pebbles at your window is Kent, and you should open up and let them in, because there’s a lot to love about Kent right now, and you’re missing out if you ignore them.
You miss out on New Zealand tyro Matt Henry, who has taken to both four day and one day cricket in England like nothing else, his zippy pace seemingly a step or two faster than anyone else on the field at any one time and his ability to bowl to a plan has been exemplary.
You miss out on Daniel Bell-Drummond, a porcelain-perfect player of shots at the top of the order; a batsman upon whom coaching manuals could be based, a gatherer of runs so accomplished and comfortable that he can make batting look like the easiest thing in the world. He swatted away Steven Finn repeated at Radlett as if the former England bowler were nothing more than a fly in his vision. Before he scores, though, he can be as brittle as the afore-mentioned porcelain. If you see him in form, savour it.
You miss out on Heino Kuhn, who is as punchy and belligerent as any South African batsman and seems to get his thrills on chasing so hard that one run becomes two, or two become three and can cut a ball so late that the keeper is almost still reaching to claim it as it clatters the boundary boards.
You miss out on Joe Denly, who has developed the skill of building an innings to such an extent that you might not even notice him scoring at all. His partnerships with Kuhn have been a huge factor in the upturn in fortunes for Kent. His spin bowling is simply a bonus, but a huge one.
You miss out on Imran Qayyum, attacking the crease like a woodpecker, jaggedly darting the ball at the batsmen, often in tandem with Denly, and working through his overs so quickly that ten can whip by in an instant.
You miss out on Alex Blake, not only a gymnast in the field but a batsman of huge quality, capable of putting any bowler on the back foot with a single swipe of his bat, and who can score at such a rate for such a time that no score is ever truly beyond him.
You miss out on Callum Haggett, who is persistent and accurate and reactionary, meaning that batsmen struggle to stay on top of him, even if his initial ideas don’t work out and his ability to come on and help his captain apply pressure, as Kent seem to be getting tighter and tighter, like they’re applying thumbscrews.
That’s not to mention the other delights that Kent have to offer; the bearing Mitchell Claydon, who might bowl with the ferocity that his look suggests, but who has improved his fielding no end over the course of the summer so far. The return of Sam Billings has brought an impetus to Kent in the field, and it is visible all over, be it in Sean Dickson, who has seen little action (nor needed to) with the bat recently, or Henry himself, who hurls himself all over the place in a way that a fast bowler will often be reluctant to do.
And above all of these, and amongst all of these, you miss out on the ageless, wondrous, ever-improving Darren Stevens. Every good team has a talismanic figure to rally around and this year, just like last year, Stevens is producing results that are simply staggering. His figures against Surrey – 6/25 – were his best ever one day figures. On a Beckenham pitch that gave up 300 runs easily, he went for just 43 against Gloucestershire as well for his ten overs. It is a special stage in a special career, and it is a delight to watch him perplex batsmen who seem to think they should do better but, quite simply, don’t.
This is a Kent side who are not barging their way into the Royal London Cup final stages, but improving, bit by bit, proving as they go that they can perform different aspects of games well, and succeeding along the way.
Against Surrey they exploded in a symphony of runs, which the Three Feathers couldn’t hope to chase. When Gloucestershire visited, wickets were hard to come by but energetic discipline and sticking to their plans ensured a reachable total, which was backed by sensible batting to guide them home. The victory against Hampshire was preposterous, with the Rose and Crown needing just four runs from Matt Henry’s final over. They could only make two, and Kent won by a single run.
I cannot say Kent are unbeatable, not least because I spent a somewhat painful afternoon watching Middlesex grind them into whatever passes for dust at Radlett; the life gradually ebbing away from the visitors, wicket after interminable wicket.
But they have something; and perhaps an advantage in their stability. There are no big stars waiting in the wings, no England players to come back in to ruin the balance of the team should they make the knock out stages, just the same blokes with the same smiles on their faces and the same roles they’ve had all season.
Yes, the feel good factor is back in Kent; you can feel it from Dover to Dartford, and can see it from Canterbury to Beckenham. The team nobody expected to do anything are doing something, and doing it well, and they deserve to be appreciated for it.
The White Horse is rampant again and the scent of the 1970s is in the air of the Garden of England.