Denly century caps cathartic day for Kent, and country

Kent 316 for 8 (Denly 119, Wiese 3-54) against Sussex

Joe Denly may play finer innings for Kent but he will make no century more precious than that which he completed just before five o'clock on an afternoon borrowed from Elysium. Denly's hundred was constructed in the style of former Kent openers: Wally Hardinge, Arthur Fagg, Brian Luckhurst. It anchored his side's effort when choppy seas threatened and it was largely responsible for his team ending the day moored in the relatively safe harbour of 316 for 8.

Yet Denly's 119 was freighted with more than statistical significance and this day's cricket embraced more than deep enjoyment. Tunbridge Wells, you see, is quite gloriously the same but England is different. We did not need the early announcement of evacuation procedures over the public address to remind us of a new reality. Those travelling to this match by train from the north on Thursday were privileged to take part in a perfectly observed minute's silence when the only noise was the gentle hum of the Pendolino. Then there were the extra police at Euston and a capital city with its Union flags at half-mast. We are suddenly more alert and newly protective of our liberties.

Those liberties include sport, of course, and so it was with a special pleasure that folk arrived to watch the cricket on a day when rugs were needed only to prevent the sun's glare reflecting off windscreens. The game began with a succession of four faultless maidens, which sounds rather like a medieval ceremony of purification. A sun-hatted slip cordon remained in vigilant attendance throughout a first hour in which Kent scored 25 runs off 15 overs and lost Sean Dickson for nought, the opener being caught behind when failing to cover Jofra Archer's movement and bounce. Archer, of whom fulsome panegyrics have already been written, bowled well throughout the day yet enjoyed no more success.

The next wicket fell instead to David Wiese, who sent down a nondescript bouncer to Daniel Bell-Drummond and was no doubt gratified to see the Kent opener waste his 65 minutes' watchfulness and slap the thing to Danny Briggs at backward point. The French Open begins at Roland Garros this weekend so maybe that was on Bell-Drummond's mind. Twenty minutes later Sam Northeast followed Vernon Philander's fine away-swinger - a shot more from Hamelin than Harrow - and gave Michael Burgess the second of his three catches.

Denly, meanwhile, was batting with studied precision, driving the Sussex seamers through the off side when they overpitched but otherwise protecting his stumps and playing shots only when they appeared necessary or without risk. At least he obtained full value for his aggression; the ball ran away across the square like a marble on glass.

Kent lunched on 69 for 3 and many spectators promenaded contentedly on the outfield. This was "keeping calm", and few places in our land are more conducive to serenity than the Nevill Ground; and this is "carrying on", though we did so in the painful knowledge that there are people for whom the mere idea of getting through any day has become almost inconceivable…

Kent dominated the afternoon session, scoring 126 runs in a style which brought pleasure to many of the near-as-dammit three thousand spectators. The pitch eased a shade and the ball softened. Joe Weatherly hit six pleasant boundaries and promised more before he was caught behind off a good delivery from Wiese. Darren Stevens, who is having the time of his life this season, batted with much greater aggression, taking three successive boundaries off Wiese and whacking eight fours in all in a run-a-ball 44 which was ended when he went down on one knee but only miscued Briggs to Chris Nash at short midwicket. Denly, meanwhile, had reached his fifty with a straight drive off Archer and the ball was beating his bat infrequently. The temperature settled in the seventies and the crowd basked in their sport. It was the sort of day when the gods turn up and watch the cricket while enjoying a pint of Goacher's mild in the CAMRA tent.

The honours in the evening session were shared, Kent scoring 121 runs but losing three batsmen to leg before decisions. Briggs was cut without mercy by Will Gidman whenever he pitched short but gained his revenge when he trapped the allrounder for 42, the ball striking the pad just prior to the bat. Denly reached his century off 188 balls after 290 minutes of fierce concentration but he then played tiredly across the line to Philander. James Harris became Wiese's third victim and the day ended with Adam Rouse unbeaten on 32 and batting for Saturday morning in partnership with James Tredwell.

The spectators drifted away, though many will be here again on Saturday; the county match is prized in these parts. And the crowd who watch their cricket at Tunbridge Wells over the weekend will share a bond with the thousands attending concerts or the slightly fewer turning up to Tredwell's hog-roast at Pembury tomorrow evening. The same association links them to those going to the Cup Final at Wembley or the athletics events in the scarred city of Manchester. So perhaps such a day at the end of such a week even gives one the licence to paraphrase very slightly the greatest cricket poem of all, "J M Parks at Tunbridge Wells" by Alan Ross: "Kent 316 for 8. Moss roses on the hill / A dry taste in the mouth, but the moment / Sufficient, being what we are, ourselves still."