By Andy Tong

THE cricket festival in Tunbridge Wells is set to proceed as normal next summer despite concerns that the match was left off Kent County Cricket Club’s fixtures when they were released last week.

The county has confirmed that if The Nevill Ground, home of Tunbridge Wells Cricket Club, passes a pitch inspection ahead of the new season, it will be included in the run of matches.

A four-day match against Warwickshire was scheduled for mid-June but there was no venue nominated – the fixture list read simply ‘To Be Confirmed’.

That match is been allocated to The Nevill on the proviso that it passes muster with the county groundsmen and also members of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

The county almost pulled out of last season’s cricket week in the town when Sussex were due to play at The Nevill, home of Tunbridge Wells Cricket Club [TWCC], in June.

A week before the game was due to start, the Kent groundstaff expressed concerns about the state of the square, parts of which were flooded because they had not been protected from rain, and the outfield.

The problems arose because of a lack of experience among the groundstaff, who were employed by Sodexo, a contractor employed by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

Kent contemplated moving the match back to its headquarters at the last minute, depriving the town of an annual fixture which it has hosted for more than 100 years.

The preparations were hindered by the fact that TWCC’s head groundsman John Buddington had departed in February 2017. He has since rejoined the club.

After their list of matches was published at the end of last month, Kent issued a statement saying: “The Specsavers County Championship fixture scheduled for June 20-23 will be held at Tunbridge Wells if Kent Cricket and England and Wales Cricket Board officials are satisfied with the condition of the playing area during pre-season inspections.

“In May 2017, Kent Cricket were forced to bring in their own groundstaff from Canterbury and Beckenham to ensure the County Championship fixture against Sussex could take place after doubts about the preparation and maintenance of the ground.”

Kent’s Chief Executive, Jamie Clifford, said: “We are working with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Tunbridge Wells Cricket Club to ensure facilities are appropriate for first-class cricket.

“Our groundstaff worked tirelessly in 2017 to ensure the fixture could continue the tradition of the Festival. We will monitor improvements at the ground with a view to returning in June.”

The county was due at The Nevill yesterday [December 5] to carry out an initial inspection, with the national governing body coming in the spring to take a further look and check progress.

It is understood that all matches at ‘outgrounds’, or venues which are not county headquarters, are now subject to more stringent inspection procedures. It is not known if the governing body has brought in these demands because of the debacle at The Nevill last year.

A spokesperson for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council said: “We are very pleased to be hosting the County Championship match between Kent and Warwickshire at The Nevill Ground on June 20-23.

“We understand clubs have been told by the ECB not to schedule matches at outgrounds such as The Nevill outside of peak months, which limits the number of county games that we can host.

“We continue to work closely with Kent and Tunbridge Wells cricket clubs, end-of-season works have been carried out, and our new groundsman and his team will be working over the winter and spring to produce an excellent playing surface at The Nevill.”

Mark Williams, Chairman of Tunbridge Wells Cricket Club, welcomed the development, saying: “It’s good news. We were a bit fearful. To be fair to the council, they have done all they can to improve things [with the groundwork] and I take my hat off to them.”

“All of us at the club have been very impressed since the appointment of the new Sodexo contract manager, Derek Hill, and the reappointment of John Buddington as groundsman was fantastic news. The council have reacted in a very positive and proactive fashion.”