County Championship
County Championship Logo Wed 20 June, 11:00

Nevill Ground, Tunbridge Wells

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Championship Report: Warwickshire at Kent

Day Four: Close

Warwickshire went down to a heroic Specsavers County Championship defeat to Kent despite totalling 445 on the final day of a magnificent match.

Chasing a mammoth 519 to win, the Bears resisted superbly into the last session before being finally bowled out with 27.5 overs to spare.

On a wonderful final day’s play at Tunbridge Wells, Ian Bell’s third century in four championship innings and Dominic Sibley’s first ton for Warwickshire kept their side in sight of pulling off the biggest run-chase ever in the county championship.

Bell batted for a minute over six hours for a high-class 172 (282 balls, 24 fours) while Sibley played with great resolve for his 104 (258 balls, nine fours) on a pitch offering increasingly variable bounce.

Their second-wicket partnership of 260 in 75 overs took the Bears within 215 of victory with nine wickets left. But in the end the challenge proved too much against a Kent attack which kept going impressively all day in the heat.

After Warwickshire resumed on 229 for one, Sibley and Bell continued to bat with immense concentration and diligence until the former edged Harry Podmore to second slip.

Jonathan Trott, having been padded up for hours while very few balls misbehaved, promptly copped an absolute snorter fifth ball, from Podmore, and edged behind for a duck.

As Kent’s seamers sustained the pressure impressively throughout a hot afternoon, Bell and Adam Hose added a hard-earned in 28 in 13 overs.  The big breakthrough came when Ivan Thomas jagged one inside Bell’s defence to win an lbw decision.

Hose continued to defy but Kent pared away at his partners. Matt Henry hit Tim Ambrose’s off-stump and Keith Barker and Jeetan Patel were caught in the cordon to send the Bears into tea on 414 for seven with Hose having just reached his 50 (92 balls, seven fours) – his first in the championship for Warwickshire.

Hose and Chris Wright added 35 to keep the Bears’ hopes alive but Kent’s belated decision to turn to spin quickly did for both of them in three balls. Both fell lbw with Hose (65, 116 balls, nine fours) appearing a little hard done by.

That left last pair Henry Brookes and Olly Hannon-Dalby with 78 runs to find or 29 overs to survive but the latter soon skied Denly and a great match was over with both sides warmly applauded off the lovely Nevill Ground by a very appreciative crowd.

Day Three: Close

Warwickshire are eyeing a tilt at history on the final day of their remarkable Specsavers County Championship match against Kent at Tunbridge Wells.

In an extraordinary and riveting tussle between the Division Two top two the Bears, chasing a mammoth 519 to win, closed the third day on 229 for one.

After 20 wickets fell on the first day, when the ball nipped about voraciously in the hands of two impressive seam-attacks, batsmen have since completely dominated.

Kent declared their second innings at 446 for eight, setting the Bears a target of 519 which, if achieved, would comfortably exceed the existing biggest total to win a county championship match – 472 by Middlesex against Yorkshire at Lord’s in 2014.

Even on a flattening pitch, that is an enormous number of runs, the harvesting of which would take immense concentration and technique. But the many Warwickshire fans among the crowd at the lovely Nevill Ground are dreaming of an “I was there” occasion on the final day with Dominic Sibley (82 not out, 197 balls, seven fours) and Ian Bell (102 not out, 174 balls, 15 fours) having  added an unbroken 185 in 55.4 overs for the second wicket.

On the third morning, Kent took their overnight 359 for six to 446 for eight before declaring half an hour before lunch. On a hot morning, Warwickshire’s bowlers persevered really well to ensure that runs had to be earned. Olly Hannon-Dalby picked up two wickets as Harry Podmore edged behind and Zak Crawley was trapped lbw for 93 (189 balls, nine fours).

Sibley and Will Rhodes negotiated an awkward eight-over session to take the Bears to 26 without loss at lunch. They then took their stand to 44 before Rhodes (26, 63 balls, two fours) was trapped lbw by Podmore’s second ball.

Kent sensed an opportunity but Sibley and Bell played with great care and patience, as the situation demanded and the time available allowed. Sibley reached her first championship half-century for the Bears from 102 balls with four fours and Bell followed to his fifty from 97 with seven.

It was calm, measured batting as Bell advanced to his 55th first-class century, reached from 164 balls with his fifteenth four, and Sibley batted in resolute and compact fashion through to stumps.

The Bears still have tons of work to do but have laid a superb foundation to mount a serious challenge for what would be a truly remarkable record.

Day Two: Close

Second-innings centuries by Sean Dickson and Joe Denly helped Kent to build a potentially game-defining lead of 431 runs as the hosts closed on day two of their top-of-the-table Specsavers County Championship clash with Warwickshire on an impressive 359 for six.

In a complete volte face to the opening day when 20 wickets fell, Kent’s third-wicket pairing found batting at The Nevill in Tunbridge Wells a pleasurable pastime once the shine went off the new ball and the wind and sunshine took effect in helping to harden the top surface.

Earlier, opener Daniel Bell-Drummond had succumbed cheaply to Keith Barker – the clear pick of Warwickshire’s attack first time around with five for 32. Barker saw two worthy leg before decisions turned aside before running one across the right-hander and enticing him to nick one to the keeper.

Barker also accounted for in-form Heino Kuhn, moving one back in through the air to snare the former Proteas Test opener flush in front to bring acting captain Denly and Dickson together.

The pair, who had notched Kent’s only other championship centuries of the summer at Bristol during the previous round of matches, combined to add 208 trouble-free runs and set a Kent third-wicket record against Warwickshire, surpassing the 186 made by Bill Ashdown and Les Ames at Edgbaston in 1934.

Jeetan Patel, the Warwickshire captain might have made life tougher for the pair by posting a third man when something like 25 per cent of their runs came through the gap, but instead they were allowed to bat through the middle session unfettered.

Patel made amends by removing both soon after tea with his off-spinners. Dickson’s 229-ball stay for 133 ended when he played across a quicker ball to depart lbw. Then, turning one in from well outside off, he won an ambitious lbw shout that ended Denley’s 88-ball stay for a polished 119.

Patel mystified some pundits later on by delaying taking the second new ball for five overs before finally throwing the new cherry to Keith Barker, comfortably his most potent threat in taking five for 32 in Kent’s first innings.

When Barker did get the new ball he quickly removed Darren Stevens, following one outside off to be caught behind, before trapping Rouse leg before with a full in-swinger.

With Kent six down and already leading by 410 runs, Barker blotted his copybook by running on the pitch for the second time to be taken out of the attack by umpire Steve O’Shaughnessy.

With Barker out of their attack, Kent rookie Zak Crawley reached an eye-catching 47 through to stumps to deepen Warwickshire’s parlous position. The visitors will know they will have to bat superbly to save this game, let alone win it.

Warwickshire's County Championship in numbers

Sat atop the division, the Bears lead Kent, who they play on Wednesday (20th), by 24 points following four wins and a draw from the opening five games.

That’s a staggering total considering Jeetan Patel has been incredibly unlucky by losing four consecutive tosses after the uncontested Edgbaston season opener against Sussex.

With the bat, there’s four Bears in the top 15 standings of Division Two.

Ian Bell, who is sixth overall in county cricket, leads the way with 454 runs in nine innings at an average of 75.66.

The number three batsman also has the second most fours in the county game with 68 and following his centuries in consecutive innings against Glamorgan, Bell currently has first-class tons against 14 counties with only Leicestershire, Northants and Yorkshire needed to complete the set.

Following Bell is Tim Ambrose who struck scores of 81, 103, 40 and 78 in his first four innings and has an average of 55.83.

The ‘keeper has also been invaluable behind the wickets after taking 22 catches so far this season at an average of 4.4 a game. Therefore with nine games remaining, Ambrose would finish on 62 catches, which would be the third highest in a first-class season for Warwickshire and 14 short of Geoff Humpage’s 1985 record which saw him awarded Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

Will Rhodes (1 100, 2 50s), who needs 16 more to reach 1000 first-class runs and Jonathan Trott (three 50s) round off the list.

With the ball, Henry Brookes is leading Warwickshire’s wicket standings on 20 although Kent’s Matt Henry is leading the division on 43.

Jeetan Patel, who currently sits on 777 first-class wickets, also has 20, whilst Olly Stone has the second best average in the game (three innings) on 12.4, 1.36 behind Henry.

Patel can't wait for Kent clash

The Bears will arrive at Nevill Road seeking to protect a 24-point lead over second-placed Kent.

Patel’s side has won four of the first five games while Kent have won three of five and were denied a fourth victory only by a dogged rearguard action by Gloucestershire at Bristol last week.

Kent have had a good start in the championship and are flying in the Royal London Cup so they will be full of confidence. “But so are we.

Jeetan Patel

With the weather set fair for the week, all the ingredients are in place for a match to savour for Patel, his team and the plenty of Bears fans who will no doubt travel to the lovely venue.

“Kent have had a good start in the championship and are flying in the Royal London Cup so they will be full of confidence,” the captain said. “But so are we. We have played some very strong red-ball cricket this season and last week’s win over Glamorgan was very pleasing.

“It was a great reaction to the disappointment of going out of the 50-over comp. That knocked us for a couple of days but the guys dusted themselves and fought out a really good win which really showed their qualities. Again there were contributions from a lot of players which has been the theme this year.”

Warwickshire have needed contributions from many players as they have moved clear at the top of Division Two despite having to withstand a number of injury blows.

Fast-bowler Olly Stone remains sidelined with a side-strain while this week the Bears will have to make a change further up the order as Sam Hain is away on England Lions duty.

“We are delighted that Sam has got the call-up,” said Patel. “One of our objectives is to produce players for the England set-up and Sam fully deserves to be in the Lions’ squad.

“He will be missed but it will just give someone else in our squad an opportunity and so far this season everyone who has come in has seized their chance and contributed to a victory.”

Warwickshire are aiming to improve their dire record at Tunbridge Wells. In ten championship visits they have recorded just one win and suffered some resounding defeats including their third-heaviest ever, by an innings-and-294-runs.

Patel has no such baggage regarding the lovely Nevill Road venue, however, having never been there.

“I’ve googled it and asked the guys who have been there to get some idea what to expect,” he said. “It is always exciting to play at a new ground and I am really looking forward to it, especially as it’s between two in-form teams. I know how much all our guys are looking forward to it.”

Remembering the summer of 76 ahead of Bears visit to Tunbridge Wells

The summer of 1976 is remembered for several things: The drought, swarms of ladybirds, West Indies’ demolition of England (fuelled by some less-than-enlightened comments from Tony Greig), and Elton John and Kiki Dee delivering the cheesiest routine in this history of routines as they warbled to number one with Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.

It was also the summer, the only ever summer so far, when Warwickshire won a county championship match at Tunbridge Wells.

When two teams meet at a venue over a long period, in most cases, their fortunes even themselves out. That is emphatically not the case for Warwickshire among the rhododendrons of Tunbridge Wells. Of ten county championship matches there, stretching back to their first visit in 1925, the Bears have drawn two, lost seven and won just one – in ’76.

They did not visit the Nevill Ground during their first three decades as a first-class county, but then played there in five successive years from 1925. That was a thin era for Warwickshire and the five games brought them one draw and four good hidings – by eight wickets, an innings & 117 runs, an innings & 294 runs and nine wickets.

In the innings-and-294-runs defeat (their third-heaviest ever), the Bears were undone by experience. Wally Hardinge, aged 42, scored 205 for Kent while 40-year-old Percy Freeman and Frank Woolley (41) each took ten wickets. County cricket was less of a young man’s game in those days!

After the tribulations of the Twenties, Warwickshire’s fortunes improved little on their next visit, in 1959, when they were beaten by 220 runs. That made it played six, lost five – all heavily. But then came ’76.

It helped that the match, in early June, coincided with the opening Test between England and West Indies at Trent Bridge. That deprived Kent of Alan Knott, Derek Underwood and Bob Woolmer and while those three were in Nottingham copping Viv Richards’ brilliant 232 (313 balls, 31 fours, four sixes), the Bears took advantage of their absence in Tunbridge Wells.

John Jameson (112) and Geoff Humpage (50) lifted Warwickshire to 312 for eight from 100 overs (to which the first innings was restricted). Then, while swing bowler Steve Perryman built pressure, hardly bowling a loose ball in his 21-7-36-3, spinner Eddie Hemmings took advantage at the other end for four for 58.

Dennis Amiss’ unbeaten 107 eased Warwickshire to 219 for two declared second time round, setting Kent a target of 353, which they never challenged. On a turning pitch, Hemmings took six for 43 to complete ten in the match – while the admirable Perryman added another three wickets. Warwickshire won by 211 runs and 51 years of hurt was over.

It remains the Bears’ solitary win at Tunbridge Wells. Three subsequent visits have brought a draw in 1991 and defeats by four and nine wickets in 1997 and 2006 respectively.

Will Jeetan Patel’s side fly in the face of history this week?

Perhaps, to inspire them on them on the long coach-trip down, they should get out the DVD and have a sing along to Elton and Kiki. Altogether now – “Don’t go breaking my…”

Opposition Overview: Warwickshire vs Kent – Specsavers County Championship 2018

Kent Overview

Specsavers County Championship: Division 2 (2017 performance 5th)

Royal London One-Day Cup: South Group (2017 performance 8th)

Vitality Blast: South Group (2017 performance 6th)

Captain: Sam Billings.

Vice-captain: Joe Denly

Head coach: Matt Walker

Assistant coach: Allan Donald

Director of cricket: Paul Downton

Overseas Players: Matt Henry (New Zealand) for SCC & RLODC). Adam Milne (New Zealand), Marcus Stoinis (Australia) for Vitality Blast

Ins and outs. In: Kuhn, Henry, Milne, Stoinis, Harry Podmore (Middlesex). Outs: Adam Ball, Hugh Bernard, Charlie Hartley, Wayne Parnell, Jimmy Neesham, Yasir Shah. Sam Northeast (Hampshire), Matt Coles (Essex).

Man on a Mission

Sam Billings. The new skipper has a lot on his plate in attempting to improve Kent’s domestic displays, whilst aiming to nail down his own berth in England’s white-ball squads. He possesses undoubted talent, but, at 26, his lop-sided career is in danger of passing him by after almost two seasons ‘carrying drinks’ on the England fringes. With 30 England caps and over 200 career appearances in white-ball cricket, Billings has yet to play his 50th first-class match for a county team badly in need of his skills and leadership.

One to Watch

Sean Dickson. A latecomer to the county circuit, the 26-year-old opening batsman already boasts a brace of first-class triple centuries and a double hundred to boot. South Africa born to a mother who hails from Kent, Dickson has planted deep roots in the Garden of England and is already a popular and hugely determined member of the county’s top-order. A steely right-hander with a fascination for technique, consistency will be the keyword for 2018 as Dickson looks to post his maiden 1,000-run season, improve on his first-class average of 37.91 and force his way into Spitfires’ one-day squads.

Local Hero

Darren Stevens. Dubbed as Kent’s answer to Benjamin Button, Stevens continues to be the fulcrum to Kent’s fortunes. Though he turns 42 on April 30, the Leicester-born all-rounder has become a Canterbury cult hero since leaving the East Midlands in 2004. He often opens the bowling in four-day cricket and has taken 421 first-class wickets – only six of which came for The Foxes. His explosive batting has also matured beyond the ‘pretty cameos’ of youth, making Stevens a dependable middle-order finisher in all formats, while his canny ‘dibbly-dobblers’ continue to frustrate much younger opponents.

Prospects for 2018

Despite losing two of their leading players in captain Sam Northeast and strike bowler Matt Coles, to Hampshire and Essex respectively, Kent have recruited quickly and strongly during the winter leaving supporters with cause for greater optimism.

A close season backroom re-shuffle has also seen the elevation of Ben Green to CEO and the return of ‘prodigal son’, Paul Downton, the county’s former wicketkeeper, in a newly-created post of director of cricket. Having suffered visa issues last summer, Allan Donald, the ex-South Africa firebrand, has also finally taken up his role of assistant coach to work alongside Matt Walker and with a brief to improve the county’s plethora of young, if underachieving pace bowlers.

Though new skipper Billings will miss the start of the campaign through Indian Premier League commitments, he has a worthy deputy in Denly, the club’s player-of-the-season for 2017, who has also excelled throughout his winter stints at the Big Bash and Pakistan Super League, as well as throughout Kent’s overseas matches in the West Indies Super 50 competition based in Antigua where, encouragingly, the Spitfires reached the semi-finals.

Kent will be bolstered for the entire summer by the arrival of new Kolpak signing Heino Kuhn, the South Africa Test batsman, and Kiwi firebrand Matt Henry, who has signed to play the first seven four-day games and the Royal London One-Day Cup qualifiers. Adam Milne (New Zealand) and Marcus Stoinis (Australia) will arrive mid-summer for Spitfires’ Vitality Blast campaign.

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