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Paul Edwards at Tunbridge Wells
May 25, 2014
Kent 258 (Northeast 53, Leach 5-36) v Worcestershire
Sam Northeast is in danger of having a promising future behind him. Frequently labelled as one of the more talented teenage batsmen in England when he made his debut in 2007, he has rather failed to live up to that billing. An aggregate of 650 Division Two runs in 2013 did nothing to hush the doubters and one fifty in his first nine Championship innings this season has scarcely improved matters.
So perhaps Northeast welcomed the opportunity to bat at Tunbridge Wells, a ground where he had scored three first-class fifties and averaged 63 before the first day of the game against Worcestershire. By mid-afternoon Kent's newly-appointed vice-captain had added a fourth half-century to his record on this tearfully lovely ground.
Moreover, along with Brendan Nash, he had gone some way towards combating the multi-faceted threat posed by Saeed Ajmal. That success was important in helping Kent recover from 24 for 2 to reach a respectable first-innings total of 258 on a day when 23-year-old Worcestershire seamer Joe Leach returned the finest figures of his young career.
If Northeast did derive any comfort from the prospect of returning to the Nevill Ground, he will surely not have been alone. The atmosphere at Tunbridge Wells serves to soothe the troubled soul. There is an air of reassuring permanence and quiet prosperity about this tree-fringed botanical garden which might almost be designed to calm players who are out of sorts or spectators in need of solace.
But on Sunday morning, Northeast's attention was given to the technical intricacies of combating Ajmal and, as so often against high-class spin bowling, positive footwork and measured aggression were the passports to success. He and Nash plainly grew in confidence during their 93-run stand until Nash edged Jack Shantry to first slip Moeen Ali at the precise midpoint of the day's play. But by then, there was every reason for home supporters to believe that their side was not about to follow the example of Essex and collapse in an unsightly heap when required to deal with the Pakistani spinner.
A cricketer of Ajmal's quality can sometimes be countered but never completely defeated. Five balls after Nash's dismissal, Northeast departed for 53, lbw on the back foot, perhaps to a rather quicker delivery, to leave Kent, who had chosen to bat first, on 117 for 4.
Yet the confidence engendered by the third-wicket pair seemed to be passed on to the later batsmen, albeit that Darren Stevens edged Ajmal's arm ball to Darryl Mitchell when he had made 25. Sam Billings, who scored briskly from the outset, and Ben Harmison, who took 42 balls over his first three runs, added 70 for the sixth wicket and it was almost a surprise when Billings was lbw, attempting to work Ali's offbreak to leg.
For their part, Worcestershire surely know they are in a match. Apart from swapping ends straight after lunch, Ajmal bowled unchanged from the 21st over until Mitchell took the new ball in the 81st. His two wickets in those 30 overs cost 76 runs and he will probably be more effective in the third innings of the game. Yet it needed the fourth delivery with that new ball to remove Harmison, who was bowled for a well-made 47 by one from Charlie Morris which kept a little low.
Mitchell Claydon then batted with typically scant regard for defence until he swung Leach to Tom Fell and Leach then removed Robbie Joseph and Adam Riley in successive overs at the end of the day to finish with career-best figures of 5 for 36. Kent therefore collected a couple of bonus points, which seemed an unlikely outcome when they lost both openers in the first hour of play and Ajmal loomed large.
Leach can now join his opponent Northeast in having fond memories of Tunbridge Wells. By doing so the pair will probably join thousands of cricketers and other lovers of the game for whom a visit to the Nevill Ground is a precious stanza in the five-month poem that is the English season.
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