After Jofra Archer had bowled four overs, I turned to my Dad and said, ‘I’ve been disappointed with Archer so far. He hasn’t got the batsman playing enough. Far too many easy deliveries outside off-stump to leave.’ By the end of the day, Archer had taken seven wickets and my statement had become a stupid mistake.
Taking in my first County Championship action for years was nothing of the sort, though. A large crowd was present for Sussex against Kent, and even the weather was exceeding expectations, with the sun breaking through the clouds for the early days play. Kent eschewed the no-toss rule so a toss took place. Kent won and decided to bat first, which I thought was a surprise. The pitch looked dry but conditions early on were conducive to swing and Sussex’s attack contained Vernon Philander, a genuine world-class swing bowler. So I was somewhat nervous when Kent came out to bat.
After my faux pas, it was Archer who took centre stage. His ball to defeat Daniel Bell-Drummond was a ripper, pitching outside off and swinging back in to demolish middle stump. That gave him a confidence boost, and for the rest of the day he caused problems for all Kent’s batsman, attacking the stumps with a consistent line and some hostile bouncers.
Philander had problems with the footmarks at the Sea End and was not his customary self, and it was only when Ajmal Shazhad entered the attack that the game moved on. He was hit for fifteen off his first over but came back to bowl Joe Denly, then had Sam Northeast caught off a toe-end. After an expensive start I thought he bowled with pace and aggression and deserved his scalps.
At the lunch break I had a wander out to the middle and was surprised by the strength of the breeze at the Sea End, particularly as the bowlers run-up is slightly uphill and into the wind. Which made Archer’s afternoon exploits even more impressive as he bowled from this end for long periods, and had Kent in all sorts of trouble with two wickets in two balls, Sean Dickson caught behind after a painstaking 68 then Adam Rouse castled. Wayne Parnell avoided the hat-trick ball, partly by indulging in some gamesmanship about the sightscreen to slow the game down and take the sting out of the moment.
Once that passed, Parnell and the irrepressible Darren Stevens turned the game in Kent’s favour. I don’t know what to say about Stevens really – an absolute legend who, at nearly 41, is still a vital part of the Kent middle order. He attacked the bowling with his usual bluster and verve and kept the score ticking over until the new ball was taken. Then he prompted to hit Philander for 6 with his first ball with the new nut, such is the audacity of the bloke. The century partnership came up in quick time and Stevens was looking good for a century until he tickled Shazhad behind.
Then the Archer show began again. After Stevens dismissal, Tredwell, Coles and Claydon came and went in quick succession, the former brilliantly caught by Chris Nash in the slips. Parnell hit a couple of lusty blows to take Kent’s total past 300 and reach 50 himself, but the day belonged to Archer, who ended up with figures of 7-67. It was a brilliant performance and on current showing, the West Indies may be interested in him very soon.
Sussex had an awkward six overs to face in fading light, and lost Nash lbw to Matt Coles in the dying moments. For me this gave Kent the edge on the day. It reminded me of the pleasures of the long-form game – to-and-fro across sessions, great individual performances, little contests within the contest. There are few greater joys, with good company, cold beer, and even some April sunburn! Still, after that Archer comment I gained a red face in more ways than one!