In the heart of Rob Key country, Kent will do battle with Gloucestershire on Friday night in what looks set to be a highly entertaining battle between two enterprising sides.
Former Kent captain Key was born and bred in Beckenham and he, like many members, will have been pleased with the return of county cricket to the area last year after a two-year hiatus – not least due to the ground’s reputation for producing belting pitches.
The way these two teams have gone in recent weeks, the outground looks set for a cracker.
You should be able to spot any travelling Gloucestershire fans by their absence of fingernails after what’s been a breathless week for the county.
Following one of the more remarkable fourth-innings run chases of recent times against Worcestershire, the side formerly known as the Gladiators showed nerves of steel in a final over victory against Middlesex at Northwood.
It was a typically savvy bowling display first up from the visitors. They took pace off the ball on a slow track, hustling Brendon McCullum out for six and perhaps equally significant was the dismissal of in-form Middlesex skipper Dawid Malan for two at the top. Although they only hit two sixes in their run-chase, Gloucestershire’s ability to consistently compile meaningful partnerships took them to a narrow win.
With their first Blast outing ending in a one-run defeat to Sussex on Duckworth/Lewis, it’s never dull where the Bristolians are in town.
Kent seemed to miss death-bowler extraordinaire Mitch Claydon in their nine-run defeat to Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl last night. However, their inability to chase down a relatively modest 158 was largely due to a lower middle-order collapse that saw them lose their last six wickets for 17 runs.
In this meeting of two powerful batting lineups that balk in the face of no quantity of runs however great, the extent to which the likes of Fabian Cowdrey and James Tredwell for the hosts and Tom Smith for the visitors are able to stifle run-rates and create scoreboard pressure with spin could be crucial.
Put simply, Daniel Bell-Drummond is the most exciting young batsman in county cricket. After a solid if unspectacular 2015, the youngster has laid down a marker at the start of this season and has firmly installed himself in the reckoning for international honours, with Trevor Bayliss underlining the 22-year-old as one of five potential replacements for Nick Compton.
An unbeaten 83 in Kent’s opening win against Somerset and a further 64 in a losing cause at Hampshire last night means he comes into this fixture in the form of his life.
There are many reasons why the world could have been a marginally different place if Andrew Strauss’ North-South 50-over play-off idea had come into force a year earlier. One of the less glamorous ones is that, based on last year’s MVP rankings, Benny Howell would have made the South’s team.
The Bordeaux-born all rounder is a canny medium pacer, picking up 2-23 at Northwood last night and a further two wickets against Sussex. He’s also capable of wreaking havoc with the bat, bludgeoning 105 against Kent’s second XI in a warm-up Twenty20 last week. The Spitfires can’t say they haven’t been warned.
It’s unlikely that Mitch Claydon’s side strain will ease up significantly in such a short space of time and his absence is a real blow to Kent. This is tempered by the availability of Sam Billings who, despite failing against Hampshire, is developing into a world-class talent.
Kent Spitfires squad: Sam Northeast (captain), Daniel Bell-Drummond, Sam Billings (wicket-keeper), Alex Blake, Matt Coles, Fabian Cowdrey, Joe Denly, David Griffiths, Matt Hunn, Tom Latham, Darren Stevens, Ivan Thomas, James Tredwell
Gloucestershire will take the same squad of players to Beckenham. Andrew Tye bowled a promising spell on debut and he should keep his place, while last night’s hero Gareth Roderick – who hit the winning runs – will take the gloves as Cameron Bancroft’s spell in the south west has come to a close.
Gloucestershire squad: Michael Klinger (captain), Ian Cockbain, Chris Dent, Benny Howell, Hamish Marshall, Kieran Noema-Barnett, Liam Norwell, David Payne, Gareth Roderick (wicket-keeper), Tom Smith, Jack Taylor, Matt Taylor, Andrew Tye, Graeme Van Buuren
Weather and Conditions
It’s often the case that outgrounds provide a plethora of runs, but will Beckenham fit the bill on Friday night? To find out, we’ll have to avoid the ominous clouds threatening throughout the day, which could provide light issues as the night goes on.
Date: Friday 3rd June
Ground: Beckenham Cricket Ground
Umpires: Rob Taylor & Billy Taylor
Odds (via SkyBet): Kent 8/13, Gloucestershire 5/4