A brief history of the Mote
The picturesque Mote cricket ground is part of an 558-acre estate that dates back to the 13th century, although Mote House, the manor house itself, was constructed in the latter years of the 18th century. The first Kent County Cricket Club match at The Mote was in 1859, 2 years after the founding of the Mote Cricket Club. However, visits by Kent to The Mote remained sporadic until the beginning of the 20th century, and the development of the cricket ground into the facility it resembles today.
The development of Mote Park's cricket ground was largely motivated by Sir Marcus Samuel, the last private owner of Mote Park, who was later to become 1st Viscount Bearstead. 1908 saw the levelling of the playing area to form the middle of three terraces, with the upper and lower levels becoming rugby pitches. At this time, the wicket was moved to its current position, at right angles to the original orientation.
In 1910, the two permanent, enclosed structures present on the ground were officially opened. The larger of these is that pavilion, containing the players' dressing rooms and covered members' seating. This is an unusually grand structure for a county out-ground, being a two-level building of brick and wood.It has been extended from the original structure to provide bar and catering facilities. Access to these is limited to staff, members and players. Thankfully, the surrounding fauna softens the modern architecture of these appendages.
The smaller building, to the left of the pavilion from the wicket, surrounded by neat hedges and low fences, is The Tabernacle. The term "tabernacle" refers amongst other things to a "nonconformist meeting-house" and the architecture of this curious structure ceratinly reflects this. The Tabernacle was formerly the private pavilion of Viscount Bearstead, for spectating and entertaining in luxury. In modern times, the building has provided a useful committee room for both the Mote and Kent county cricket clubs when either body is present.
There is a small, open stand to the right of the pavilion from the wicket. This is a more modern concrete structure and the underside is used for equipment storage. The scoreboards are small, portable boxes of little known note.
Mote Park was sold to Maidstone Borough council by the heir of the late 1st Viscount Bearstead in 1928 and it remains partly in their ownership to this day. Mote House has become a Cheshire Home, part of the charitable organisation founded by Leonard Cheshire, a former member of the Royal Air Force's 610 ("Dambusters") squadron. However, in account of the 1st Viscount's love of the game, his heir presented the cricket ground to Mote Cricket Club itself. The Tabernacle was given to the Band of Brothers, who in turn reunited it with the rest of the ground under the ownership of the Mote Cricket Club in the late 1940s.
Apart from restoration work, the ground resembles closely the facility that was developed in the early years of the 20th century, and provides a picturesque setting reminiscent of the classic picture-postcard portrayal of an English cricket ground.
Several events of note have occurred at The Mote in first class cricket. The county's highest partnership for any wicket in first-class cricket was made there during the now almost-legendary 1995 season. Kent had signed the tiny Sri Lankan Aravinda DeSilva as overseas player for the season, reputedly on more or less the sole initiative of Mark Benson, the incumbent first team captain. This was a move that alledgedly even gained him hate mail, DeSilva being deemed unworthy of the position. However, when an intemperate spring gave way to a tropical summer, the pleasant DeSilva proved to be an inspired signing and by this point in the season was being hailed as a Kent hero, applauded without seemingly actually needing to perform any longer and yet, showing no signs of stopping. This was the third consecutive match in which he made a century, the second consecutive match in which he made a double century and the second consecutive match in which he took part in a record stand for Kent. He also became the first batsman past 1,000 runs that season and scored over 100 in both innings. In partnership with Graham Cowdrey (137), who arrived with the score on 54 for 3, the two scored 368, DeSilva bludgeoning the small matter of 255. A wonderful photograph exists of the two arm in arm, celebrating beneath the scoreboard. Within the year, DeSilva was to win the admiration of the entire cricketing world, with his almost single-handed destruction of the mighty Australians in the World Cup final.
In 1910, C. Blythe (11 for 95) and the legendary F.E. Woolley (8 for 91) bowled unchanged throughout both innings of the Yorkshire fixture at The Mote, the most recent of 2 occasions on which this feat has been performed at the ground. The previous occasion was in 1889, also against Yorkshire (W. Wright 9 for 51 and F. Martin 10 for 65).
The small playing area of The Mote can make it an interesting venue for one-day cricket. Emotional scenes at The Mote accompanied Kent's 1976 John Player League (as the 40-over Sunday League competition was then known) victory. Entering the last round of matches, Kent were the outsiders of 4 teams still capable of winning the trophy. The BBC recorded each of the contenders' matches and, to add to the drama, commissioned a helicopter to act as a real-life "swingometer", moving the trophy closer to the ground of the likely winner of the moment. Kent played one of the most convincing performances in the history of the league, with Asif Iqbal making 106 and Mike Denness, in his final Sunday game both for Kent and as their captain, making 56. Gloucestershire were left facing 279 to win, and barely batted out their overs to lose by 123 runs. Somerset, the favourites, looked unperturbed for most of the afternoon but finished on the receiving end of a shock narrow defeat. The helicopter duly made its way to Maidstone and landed on the pitch, delivering the trophy to the triumphant Denness who, only a week later, played his final game for Kent.
19 years later, in the 1995 Sunday League, Mark Ealham made the fastest century in the history of the 40-over game. Batting at 7 against Derbyshire, Ealham came to the wicket with Kent, needing to set a good target to remain in contention for the trophy, having collapsed to 105 for 5 with 14 overs left. To make matters worse, the pitch was offering little help to the bowling. Derbyshire looked to have won already. However, 44 balls later, Ealham passed his hundred, with 9 sixes and 9 fours. On each of the three occasions he was dropped, the ball was travelling too fast for the fielder to hold on to. The latter attempted dismissal saw the ball merely fly straight on through the fielders' hands for six. Such batting was later to prove vital, as Kent won their first trophy for 17 years by the slimmest of margins, seasonal run rate.
On a lighter note, in 1984 The Mote was the scene of pace bowler Kevin Jarvis' Kent high score and his sole first-class six. Jarvis, although twelfth man on two occasions for England, is remembered rightly as one of the 10 worst batsmen ever to be seen in county cricket, with twice as many wickets as runs in his long career, and an average well below 4. However, a delivery from the former England allrounder Geoff Miller was on this occasion smote rom the ground, on Jarvis' passage to the dizzy heights of 19.