This Ashes tour is already gripping the imagination. After all these years, in a world that has changed beyond recognition the pulling power of the Australians remains intact. It is the reward for that elusive quality, perennial charisma.
They flocked into the St Lawrence ground from all parts for the start of the first match of the tour. The opening gambit from the taxi driver at the station the previous evening was: “You here for the cricket? Everybody else is, they’ve been coming all day.”
In its way, that was music to the ears. It meant then that it could have been a scene from decades ago when these tour matches meant more. Spectators were packed in on the grassy banks on both sides of the ground, or else in the Woolley, Ames, Cowdrey, Underwood and Knott stands. I say could have been except that it is no longer the St Lawrence ground, the name having necessarily fallen prey to sponsors some while back, in this case, Spitfire, an estimable local ale.
The sight that greets you on entry is a supermarket, perched on the left at the top of the short drive. The Colin Blythe Memorial, erected in memory of one of the greatest of all Kent players, indeed one of the best left-arm spinners that ever existed, who was killed in the First World War, has been temporarily moved to a stone mason’s yard to enable more building work.
The new lime tree, which replaced the original version 10 years ago, stands, for the most part, outside the boundary these days and remains a tree in miniature. It was planted about eight yards away from its predecessor and however tall it grows will always be dwarfed by the floodlight that stands alongside it.
The St Lawrence Spitfire Ground, like the county side which plays on it, is struggling to come to terms with the demands of the 21st century. Australia, on the other hand, are not. They turned up bristling as usual.
They were asked to bat by Kent’s captain, Sam Northeast, who might have feared what could happen to his side otherwise. Beaten three times in succession in the Championship, their highest total in six innings has been 285 all out. The bowling, without their leading wicket-taker, Matt Coles, who has been suffering back spasms, did not provide much relief. By lunch, the tourists, at more or less full batting strength, were 108 without loss; by tea they were 236 for 1 and by the close 348 for 3.
Kent stuck at it well but there was little in their work to suggest reasons why they should not be at the bottom of division two in the Championship. The county are a long, long way short of the sides which have graced their history.
They missed an opportunity to dismiss Chris Rogers when he was on 21 in the morning. Had Adam Riley taken a reasonably routine chance at second slip it might have made life a touch trickier than it already is for Rogers.
He has had problems with his recently established hospitality company, inadvertently offering packages for the Lord’s Test which he ought not to have done. Apologies have been issued.
At the age of 37 he may find himself excluded from the Ashes side. He was in possession of an opener’s berth when he was hit on the head in net practice in the West Indies last month and suffered concussion which precluded his precluded his presence in both Tests.
Having been reprieved he went on to make a characteristically compact 84, driving with alacrity. It may or not be enough. Shaun Marsh, the man with whom he is in direct competition – assuming David Warner is already penned in for the other spot as opener – made the crispest, most upright of hundreds.
When Rogers was out, lbw playing forward to Matt Hunn, Marsh was joined by Steve Smith, the man of the moment. Smith, whose mum hails from Kent, drove his fifth ball straight for four and his eighth for six. Marsh was out, caught by a diving Daniel Bell-Drummond in the deep, also off Hunn, having spent four hours over his innings of 114, which included 14 fours.
Smith, who spent a summer when he was 18 playing for Sevenoaks Vine and a little for Surrey and Kent second XIs – and was the object of admiring glances from English administrators – batted with the air of a man who knew he was in the form of his life.
The crowd here is expected to be higher in the next two days. But the north is being deprived of Australia, who are venturing no further than Nottingham until after the Ashes series ends. So much for the ECB’s mission statement to promote cricket in the whole country, especially considering the national team is being kept in business at present predominantly by players from northern counties.
It is undoubtedly a pity. Everyone should have a chance to watch these tourists.Reuse content