There’s something rather heart-warming about seeing county cricket stalwarts match, and even get one over, their international counterparts.
For Kent, seeing their opposition bursting at the seams of international class and experience would have likely tested their resolve before even taking to the Canterbury pitch. Eight of Yorkshire’s XI are, or were, part of the England setup.
It was that which ramped up the volume from the 6,000 strong crowd, packed into the St Lawrence Ground when Alex Blake, an unheard of name to those outside county cricket circles, caressed and bullied Liam Plunkett for three successive fours.
At that point of the game, Kent had been in trouble. Losing Daniel Bell-Drummond, Sam Northeast, Sam Billings and Joe Denly early – the latter two England-capped themselves, the first pair likely to follow – a more-than achievable chase of 257 looked in disarray at 66-4.
But Blake had other ideas: firstly rebuilding with Darren Stevens, still looking sprightly at 40 in his 500th game with the club, before Plunkett felt the force of two sweet off drives and a baseball-esque straight bash past his, and the non-strikers’, heads. Members commented it was the fastest they’d ever seen Stevens move.
The impossible was back on, both on the scorecard and in the minds.
Then Stevens joined in with Adil Rashid – England’s Adil Rashid – taking the brunt, a sumptuous drive succeeded by picking out the leg-side crowd. By the time Blake found the extra cover boundary off Plunkett once more, 158 was required from the best part of 29 overs.
Blake would not remain, however, firstly watching his partner slog-sweep Rashid into the crowd then edging David Willey behind soon after making his 36-ball half-century.
Stevens, in a fitting tribute to his career, was not to be departed. Joined by loanee Will Gidman, the veteran littered both sides of the field to bring up an assured 50 of his own. It came from 61 balls, and was priceless.
Some thought the damage had already been done. Bell-Drummond and Billings were lbw to Willey and Steven Patterson respectively, while Plunkett outdid Northeast – who had already lofted Willey over the lime tree into the construction site – and Denly.
It stuttered the rather modest chase of Yorkshire’s 256-9. Adam Lyth, looking to regain a place in England minds, started briskly despite losing captain Alex Lees for 7.
That only brought Joe Root to the crease, although Kent’s mightily-impressive ground fielding halted boundaries for the best part of 11 overs.
The pressure soon told, as Root scooped to Blake at extra cover and when Jonny Bairstow chipped straight to mid-on, a formerly injury-ravaged Charlie Hartley – playing just his sixth professional game – had two of England’s prized possessions back in the shed.
Yorkshire bat deep, however, and in Gary Ballance (37) they had a way back in, but when Gidman had Tim Bresnan and Willey out in consecutive legitimate deliveries, the latter’s a strangle down the leg-side to great Billings glovemanship, the game switched once more.
Ballance was run out attempting a third and it was only two late, lusty Rashid blows that took them to 250.
With Kent needing just 77 from 81, it seemed as though that tally may not be enough. There were more twists to be had, however, as Plunkett’s out-stretched left hand accounted for Stevens, caught and bowled. The all-rounder had made 54, and almost had to drag himself off the park.
But Kent still had chances, and there were stories in them too. Gidman’s move from Gloucestershire to Nottinghamshire ahead of last season was seen as a make-or-break for his international chances. It hadn’t gone to plan, while he also watched his old side win this very competition. A move to Kent, on loan, gave him a sense of rejuvenation, very much shown by his uppercut off Plunkett for six to third man, before he too was caught and bowled by the same man.
Plunkett ended with 4-52.
But the heart kept warming. Matt Coles, miffed that his straight smash off Azeem Rafiq only been adjudged as a four, went and bullied the next two balls for six. With his next ball a single to keep him on-strike, the crowd cheered as if it were a boundary itself.
Soon after, he was hushed. Bairstow had had a quiet match behind the stumps, but in the split-second Coles raised his foot, the man who had earlier injured his finger took off the bails. Kent were eight down in last chance saloon.
But still Kent were not out of contention. In James Tredwell and the inexperienced Hartley they had willing runners, with every two lapped up until a Rashid googly had the youngster pinned in front. 16 needed from 18.
But this time the heart was not to be warmed to its full. As happened just minutes previously at Wantage Road, the favourite prevailed; the underdog was not to get its moment in the sun.
With Tredwell lbw to Willey, 11 runs was the narrow margin of victory.
Yorkshire now host Surrey in the last four, but one thing is for certain: Kent provided their fair share of domestic stories at Canterbury. Long live county cricket.