Timm van der Gugten claims 2 for 0 as Glamorgan make early inroads
Kent 70 for 2 (Robinson 43, van der Gugten 2-0) vs Glamorgan
Sam Billings always seems such an upstanding, action-man type of chap that when it was announced he had got out of India ahead of most of the rest of England’s IPL contingent the thought occurred that his escape route from Delhi probably involved back-packing through Uzbekistan under cover of darkness, trekking WNW once north of the Caspian Sea and concluding the traversing of Europe with a cross-channel swim from Calais to Dover. More prosaically, he just got himself on a flight and no doubt had to suffer the petri-dish of Heathrow Arrivals like everybody else.
Whatever, now he is back. And what’s more, he is the first IPL returnee to leap the greatest hurdle of all – playing in the County Championship, a hurdle that for some (no names mentioned) appears to be more mental than physical. But Billings is captain of Kent, Kent are bottom of the table, and there is a rescue act to attend to.
Billings has had the sort of frustrating winter that these days is the lot of the elite-athlete, highly-regarded-and-rightly-so nearly man. He was picked in the last round of bidding by Delhi Capitals, but failed to start a game. He had an active time in the Big Bash with Sydney Thunder and a solitary England ODI appearance against India in Pune.
But at Kent, he is indispensable. He rejoins a county that finds itself 15 points adrift at the bottom of Group 3, the sense of a new beginning that surrounded their pre-Covid promotion to Division One under threat. His energetic presence is clearly needed and with a limited number of supporters back in the ground for the first time since Covid struck there was even a sense of celebration.
Well, actually there wasn’t a celebration really. The Championship season continues to be ravaged by appalling weather and play was delayed for five-and-a-half hours. A temporary capacity of 950 spectators who won tickets in the ballot was never challenged, and fell during the day to virtually nothing by the time the umpires surrendered to the rain that had been sweeping much of the country around 6pm.
If this weather keeps up much longer, hand sanitiser could be 2 for 1 in the club shop by September and spiders will have taken over the temporary bar marquees. It was a day to observe via the Live Stream. But worry not, High pressure is allegedly on its way.
Ollie Robinson, Kent’s highest Championship run-scorer, was promoted to opener upon Billings’ return with Daniel Bell-Drummond, the temporary captain who had overseen the problematic start to the season, shunted meaningfully down to No 6.
Robinson had fulfilled the role of opener-keeper in Kent’s seconds earlier in his career and he responded with an entirely uninhibited 43 in Kent’s 70 for 2 when rain forced an end. “Billings will bring positivity and a fresh energy into their camp,” Glamorgan’s coach, Matthew Maynard, had predicted and so it appeared as Robinson drove at will, and was probably helped by windy conditions which meant that the ball did not swing.
Robinson also – quite rightly – offered a more positive view on the relaxation of the bio-bubble. “Even 200 people feels like a lot of people,” he said, “just that little bit of energy you get when you hit a four and there’s a little ripple from the crowd, it just makes such a difference. It was special for me and Jordan Cox when we went out to bat. There was a big cheer and it’s things like that you miss and take for granted a lot of the time.”
Timm van der Gugten, who took both Kent wickets to fall, and who sat on overnight figures of 4-4-0-2, felt no need to take the home team view. “We had the four seasons out there today, a bit of sun, a bit of rain, a bit of wind,” he said. “It was nice to see the crowd but we didn’t really hear them much, we were filling in time by doing crosswords for most of the day.”
van der Gugten’s wickets were essentially balls that held a tight line. Zak Crawley was a victim, his moderate start to the season continuing with a seven-ball duck. Some players are chosen for England because they dominate county cricket. Some are chosen because they are punts. Crawley is a punt. He appears to be a very good punt, but the man who punted has departed as national selector.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps