Recent Match Report – Lancashire vs Kent 2022

Lancashire 344 for 4 (Vilas 124, Croft 113*) vs Kent

“Please pay attention to what is going on inside the boundary,” said the public address announcer, mindful of spectator safety, but his gentle injunction was unnecessary. This was a day for which many at the Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence, had waited all winter and they combined their concentration on the cricket with warm greetings to friends they might not have seen for six months. For such folk, emails are soulless things and good only for ordering stuff. “Hope all is well. It won’t be long until April,” the Christmas cards had read.

But if the enjoyment of the majority of those at Canterbury on this high-clouded afternoon was spoiled a little by Lancashire’s dominance, they could at least admire the batting of two cricketers whose every stroke proclaimed an understanding of their craft. And it is a craft for Steven Croft and Dane Vilas, whose 215-run partnership for the fourth wicket defined the shape of the day. Both made centuries and they did so because they understood the strokes they could not play, even on an easy-paced pitch where batting first was an obvious choice. Vilas was all square cuts, savage pulls and smacks through midwicket, even if he reached his century with a wristy cut through third man off Hamidullah Qadri. The only vaguely surprising aspect of his century was that a batsman who prides himself on batting on beyond 150 was removed by the new ball when his attempted clip to leg off Matt Milnes edged a catch to Jordan Cox at slip.

Croft, meanwhile, he of the legs-akimbo stance, enjoys driving the ball through mid-off or cover and invariably punishes bowlers who overpitch. His partnership with Vilas was a delight because it was perfectly calibrated; run-outs were the only significant threat and when Vilas was on 67, he can have beaten Daniel Bell-Drummond’s throw from square-leg by no more than a snub nose. Neither Vilas, who will be 37 in June, nor Croft, who celebrated that birthday in October, can have too many seasons left. But these things are conditioned in part by a player’s appetite, and in the county of Darren Stevens, every cricketer is entitled to feel young or, at least, youngish.

Kent supporters, meanwhile, could be consoled by the bowling of Milnes and Nathan Gilchrist, who took two wickets apiece on a surface where most errors were punished. They could also be comforted that they now have a ground of which they can be proud, although one accepts that writing such a thing might prompt a choleric response from those who dislike any trace of modernity.

But a decade or so ago, Canterbury was a dilapidated place. Some stands were falling down and one scoreboard had seen nothing but better days. Now there is a row of smart apartments on the Old Dover Road side of the ground and some of the money seems to have gone on renovations. While some of the quirkiness has gone – the lime tree is the most obvious example – this ground now looks fit for its 21st century purposes. Alan Knott, Les Ames, Derek Underwood and Colin Cowdrey are all honoured with fine stands and there was particularly good news for members late on this first day when it was announced that the upper tier of the recently refurbished Frank Woolley Stand had passed its safety inspection. Members will be able to sit there from the second morning of this game onwards and for some of them it will be like coming home.

EW Swanton might not approve of all the changes at Canterbury but he was a shrewd old bird and he would understand why they had been made; he would also recognise the place as the one he knew, something that could not be said of Neville Cardus at Emirates Old Trafford today. And another cricketer still honoured at Canterbury is Colin Blythe, the Deptford slow left-armer who baffled fine players in the Golden Age and who died at Passchendaele in 1917. “He was unsurpassed among the famous bowlers of the period and beloved by his fellow cricketers,” reads Blythe’s memorial, which has been suitably relocated behind the Ames Stand.

This sensitive restoration is rather in contrast to Canterbury’s city centre, in which the heritage industry has swamped a subtler, multi-layered past. The “Ye Olde” dross has also been manacled to commerce in a way one does not notice at the cricket ground, where the Sainsbury’s can’t be seen from the ground and the sponsorship is no greater than one might find at other venues. In some of Canterbury’s streets, however, one might believe that Chaucer’s pilgrims celebrated their arrival with a nosh-up at Wagamama.

In the later stages of Croft and Vilas’s partnership the loss of three early wickets also seemed part of a slightly distant past and it was useful to remember that Lancashire had once been poorly placed on 80 for 3. Two of those wickets fell to catches by Ollie Robinson off Gilchrist. The makeshift opener, George Balderson, played rather a limp shot to a ball that seamed away down the hill, and his colleague, Luke Wells, was caught off the toe end of a bat he was trying to remove. Wells had hit eight boundaries in his 58-ball 39 and was batting beautifully, an impression that was clearly not lost on him. For you could have rung British Gas and got a reply in the time it took him to leave the ground. It was the type of dismissal that hurts professionals.

Josh Bohannon’s back foot drive off Jackson Bird was the shot of the morning and Lancashire’s No. 3 looked in little trouble until he played around one from Milnes that nipped back a shade. None of this appeared to trouble Vilas and Croft, who took 39 runs off the first five overs after the resumption. Mark you, they had plenty of loose stuff to put away, particularly from Bird, whose first ten overs cost 48 runs.

And there was no great comfort available for the Australian in the evening session as Phil Salt marked his first innings for Lancashire by making an unbeaten 33 and Croft walked off this great cricket ground with 113 runs to his name. The regulars in the Frank Woolley Stand will be hoping that Zak Crawley and his friends respond in kind.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications

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