Although Kent fully accepted the ECB pitch panel’s eight-point penalty for a Canterbury surface marked “poor” because of “excessive unevenness” during their six-wicket County Championship win in little more than two days against Essex, the incident again highlighted the inconsistencies of the system.
Kent would be entitled to wonder, for instance, why a Lord’s pitch on which 23 wickets fell on the first day of their Championship match against Middlesex on June 19 escaped without penalty – or why their eight-point punishment was exactly the same as the one given to Warwickshire in mid-May for an Edgbaston pitch that Steve Rhodes, the Worcestershire director of cricket, described as “the worst wicket I have ever seen in professional cricket in England”.
Most batsmen in the match had suffered nasty blows to gloves or body – which was never the case at Canterbury – and two Worcestershire batsmen had retired hurt in their first innings. Rhodes, indeed, decided to concede defeat by 218 runs when, with Worcestershire at 109 for seven in their second innings, he saw Ben Scott struck again on the hand by a brutish lifter from Warwickshire fast bowler Boyd Rankin.
“It was a farcical end to what has been a farcical game, said Rhodes afterwards. “This pitch was marked as poor but in my view it was unfit for first-class cricket.” What Rhodes was saying, and what many observers at Edgbaston felt, was that the surface should have been marked “unfit”, a marking that would have cost Warwickshire 24 points.
As it was, Warwickshire even had the gall to appeal against the decision – an appeal, predictably, they lost – but had the penalty been 24 points then it would have impacted far more on this season’s Championship title race. In Middlesex’s case, too, a penalty would have had ramifications in terms of the second division promotion race – but, in county cricket circles, there is a strong feeling that there is one rule for the Test match ground counties but another for the smaller clubs.
The only other pitch that has received a penalty so far this summer is the Rose Bowl, where a surface of supposedly excessive turn in fact produced one of the most thrilling matches of the season, and a contest which went well into the final day.
In Kent’s case, they were not too bothered as they are near the bottom of the second division table and have nothing tangible left to play for – and they certainly would not countenance spending £5,000 on any appeal in their current financial position.
It might be a purely cynical view, but did the pitch panel choose to make an example of Kent simply because it was an easy opportunity to throw some weight about? By all accounts, there have been a good number of pitches around the circuit this season which could also have fallen foul of the pitch liaison officers, let alone the examples mentioned above. Certainly, and at the very least, the present inconsistency in application of the penalties available needs to be reviewed.