Recent Match Report – Essex vs Kent 2023

Recent Match Report - Essex vs Kent 2023

Essex 164 for 1 (Westley 71*, Browne 54*) vs Kent

Alastair Cook was here for a good time, not a long one. So too was the healthy gathering of supporters which by mid-afternoon had deserted The Spitfire Ground for cosier environs in Canterbury or further afield.

In contrast, Tom Westley and Nick Browne, Essex captain and opener respectively, looked perfectly well-inclined to stick around despite the onset of some grim weather, which ultimately stole their thunder.

The naive hope would be that by Round 3 coats and scarves are no longer needed, but that wasn’t the case as the players took the field under a sky in which the sun waged and won a morning battle with high cloud cover as a brisk wind kept temperatures to a chilly 12 degrees. That didn’t deter the ice-cream van, however nor, more importantly, the crowd, well wrapped in bobble hats and gloves watching some entertaining Essex batting on a flat pitch.

Home fans will also have been impressed by Wes Agar, the Australian quick signed last week to bolster Kent’s seam attack until the arrival of India left-armer Arshdeep Singh in June. Just five days after arriving on English soil, Agar sent down back-to-back maidens for his first two overs in a Kent shirt – and in county cricket – and conceded just eight runs from his opening four.

But then Cook, who had threaded the first ball he faced – off Nathan Gilchrist – for four through point and subsequently helped himself to three more off Gilchrist’s third over in a fast-paced knock, launched another attack, this time against Agar. Cook whipped him through square leg and hoisted him over gully before a superb back-foot drive through the covers made it three boundaries in a row and nine altogether in a knock worth 39.

It was Agar who ended Cook’s 30-ball innings with his very next ball, Sam Billings snaffling the edge behind the stumps, giving him figures of 5-2-20-1 at the time. In all, Agar produced five maidens among his 13 on a truncated day when only 42 overs were possible and ended it with 1 for 39.

Interestingly, Agar’s older brother, Ashton, had dismissed Cook to claim his first Test wicket as a 19-year-old during the 2013 Ashes. And while 26-year-old Wes was understandably measured in assessing his chances of breaking into the reckoning for this year’s edition in England, a Test call-up at some point in the future is not beyond the ambitions of a player who has represented his country twice in ODIs and Australia A on a first-class tour of New Zealand at the start of April, immediately before Kent came calling.

“If you asked me that question maybe four months ago, I would have laughed at you but I guess playing well during the Aussie summer and going away with the Aussie A [side], there’s something in the back of your mind,” said Wes, the Sheffield Shield’s fourth-highest wicket-taker for 2022-23 with 36 at 27.36 and an economy rate of 3.10. “Definitely not something that I’m thinking about, definitely not something that I think will happen, but if you do well, you put your name up, maybe not for this one but for future honours later down the track.”

On this occasion, Westley could afford to be less watchful than he had been during his two-and-three-quarter-hour, 120-ball 43 which salvaged a draw with Lancashire on Sunday. By the time more than a handful of supporters accepted an invitation to venture onto the outfield during the lunch break through chattering teeth, raised collars and fists thrust firmly into pockets, he’d moved to 48 not out from 58 balls, opposite Browne’s more sedate 34 off 92.

Westley brought up his half-century driving Conor McKerr through point to match Cook’s tally of fours shortly after the interval. By the time Browne passed fifty within half an hour of his skipper, the breeze had whipped up enough to blow over an industrial-sized wheelie bin on the grass bank, convince the nearby car-boot bookseller to shut up shop (the owner of the desolate ice-cream van was clearly thinking about following suit) and deliver a far more imposing layer of thick, grey cloud to the ground.

When play was suspended for 10 minutes due to bad light at 2.19pm, the wind too strong for the floodlights to be raised, Westley was unbeaten on 67 and Browne 53 as the ice-cream van beat a melancholy retreat.

Westley was still on 67 when he got a top-edge to a Gilchrist delivery that flew above third slip, where Jack Leaning managed only to parry a tough chance to the rope in the gloom. At that moment, the rain arrived in earnest and the players followed the last brave souls still sitting in the lower tier of the Colin Cowdrey Stand in heading indoors.

Play was abandoned for the day on the stroke of 5pm after a delay of more than two hours. Then, at 5.05pm, as a few patches of blue sky appeared in the distance, it seemed only right to note that on his first foray into county cricket, Agar could say he’d experienced the quintessential April day in the Championship.

“The boys said, ‘welcome to some county cricket,'” Agar smiled. “It’s funny, cricketers in general, you don’t mind rain, but this is the one time where sometimes you wish it’d go away, when you’re excited to go out there and bowl. But you can’t do anything about the weather.

“It’s a great opportunity to develop craft. I’m not necessarily known as a swing bowler, I tend to bash the wicket in a cricket term. I think coming over here you have to adapt and you have to change your game a little bit. It’s a great time for me to explore what I can do, explore how I can add to my game, not change it, but add strings to my bow in terms of using swing to your advantage, putting balls in different areas to create wickets on different pitches.

“I didn’t put too much expectation on myself as an international coming over, sometimes you can do that. I just wanted to get into a rhythm, get into a groove – I was able to do that early – and then hold that for as long as I can, take pride in what I do, take pride in playing well for a team that’s given me an opportunity.”

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women’s cricket, at ESPNcricinfo

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