August 27, 2013

Canterbury Festival peps up Kent

The weather wasn't quite as heartening but the Kent administrators deserve praise for reinvigorating the country's oldest cricket week

The storm clouds gathered over the Spitfire St Lawrence for the 168th Canterbury Festival week, as Kent spent the fourth day stuck in the Pavilion, hoping in vain that the rain would break long enough for them to take the one remaining Gloucestershire wicket needed to secure victory.

Although a result could not quite be reached, Michael Klinger's sporting declaration made for the second thriller between these two sides this season. Yet, on the quiet, Kent's administrators deserve a pat on the back for reinvigorating the country's oldest cricket week. Of course, it will never live up to its pre-war idyll as a key date on London's social calendar, but a balance has been struck between marking Kent's heritage and enjoying its present.

However, more disappointing than the rain were the metaphorical storm clouds which have gathered over Canterbury. At the fan's forum, chairman of cricket, Graham Johnson, confirmed that Matt Coles had refused a new contract. He has been linked with Derbyshire. Not so long ago, Derbyshire picked up our rejects (such as wayward fast bowler Simon Cusden in 2006). Now, they are a preferred destination for our best prospect. The words 'feeder club' are being bandied around.

Kent supporters have disagreed about Coles all season (indeed, the moderator had to step in to cut down the swearing on our Facebook group). Some saw a raw-but-promising paceman and an audaciously clean-striking batsman, others a liability whose random assortment of long hops and slower balls often went round the park.

Hanging over Coles' head have been his late-night exploits on the winter's England Lions tour (when he was sent home for a second alcohol-related mishap). Whereas fellow offender Ben Stokes has been rapidly rehabilitated, Coles now looks a long, long way from international honours.

His cause won't be helped by Kent captain James Tredwell's description of "a couple more indiscretions during this summer that have been kept pretty quiet if we're honest". Tredwell may be relieved to be shot of a trouble-maker, but he may reflect - for example - on how many wickets the hard-drinking Martin McCague took in Kent colours. Are the bars for player behaviour set too high these days?

Coles' exit was the second piece of bad news. A week earlier, we learned that Darren Stevens faces an ICC hearing, accused of not reporting an approach from a bookmaker during the Bangladesh Premier League earlier this year. There are no suggestions Stevens fixed matches, but - as he is 37 - even a short ban could end his career.

Unlike Coles, Stevens was picked to play against Gloucestershire. He shrugged off his problems with another exceptional innings, confirming - as if there was any doubt - that he is the most naturally gifted current player never to have played for England. Often, his timing is unbelievable. On day one, most of his 17 boundaries rattled past the rope so quickly he had no need even to pretend to run.

In typical style, he tried to bring his century up with a six (the reason he is so often out in the nineties), but on this occasion, a difficult overhead chance went down, and he was left 98 not out overnight. His century was completed, more sensibly, the next day. It was an innings of which Frank Woolley, Les Ames and Colin Cowdrey (the legends after whom our stands are named) would have been proud.

So, with Stevens and another excellent century from Ben Harmison, Kent fans had an enjoyable week. Even the off-field activity was worth noting. A new heritage society was launched, coincidentally alongside a new book celebrating Kent's 1913 championship-winning side. There was also a surprisingly moving memorial to those cricketers (including Colin Blythe, star of the 1913 side) who died in the world wars. Kent CCC has a history the county should be proud of, and I'm glad we seem less embarrassed about saying so.

Meanwhile, the CAMRA real-ale tent was a welcoming refuge and the hospitality suites were packed with people who seemed to be - take a deep breath - actually watching the cricket.

Most importantly, even clashing with the Oval Test, Canterbury was as full as I have seen for a Championship game and, however disappointing the final-day washout, Kent played well. It has been a bad season, and Kent will face many problems over the winter - but Canterbury Week showed the county's capacity to produce great cricket in front of large crowds.

Kent fan Ben Howarth first became a junior member in 1995. He tweets here