Kent Season Preview

For those lucky enough to take residence in the English goddess that is Canterbury, last season provided an unwelcome cloud of the usually picturesque views.

Finishing second in Division Two, Kent should have plenty of reason to cheer – most notably a return to the top tier and a best four-day season since 2010.

But, in a one-off season, Essex took the sole spot on offer as the bottom division was bumped up by one team. Not even immediate relegation for Durham could help the Spitfires as the extra place went to previously-relegated Hampshire.

A sore spot it may no longer be, but there’s likely to be a sense of proving a point from Kent in the four-day game, though it’s not going to be easy with two teams from ten returning to the promised land.

There may also be rights to wrong in the limited-overs games. Often a staple part of the Canterbury diet, Kent’s Natwest T20 Blast campaign failed to ignite last year, missing out on the quarter-finals despite their squad packing a punch.

The Royal London One-Day Cup fared better, though a Yorkshire team including eight current or past internationals – a tally that didn’t even include their captain – scuppered their chances of a place at Lord’s.

Whether that can be repeated or not is likely to be dependent on priorities. Eyeing up a return to Division One may put the chances of a trophy on the back-burner, at least for parts of the season, though limited-overs success could at least take the pressure off a four-day assault.

But, despite limited player recruitment over the winter, movement has certainly taken place off the cricket field. Head coach Jimmy Adams has stepped down and been replaced by his assistant Matt Walker, who will be assisted by ex-South Africa paceman Allan Donald.

Former Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie will fill the assistant coach role on an interim basis while Donald awaits a UK visa. Min Patel and Jason Weaver have been appointed second XI coach and high performance director respectively, replacing Simon Willis who has taken a role with Sri Lanka.

Key Player – Sam Northeast

Sam Northeast is a player certainly on the radar of England. A capable batsmen across the formats, being made Kent skipper has seemingly not had a detrimental effect on his batting form.

Averaging 83.56 for the season, the man tipped to be a future England skipper struck five 100s in his 1,337 runs, reaching a career-best 191 against Derbyshire in July, showing his ability to convert centuries into bigger scores.

And the 26-year-old was not done there, using the last game of the season to perfectly offload some emotion, scoring an unbeaten 178 from 177 balls with 25 fours and three maximums to sign off from Canterbury in style against the division winners, Essex.

That saw him earn a place for the trip to Abu Dhabi for the pre-season North v South matches. The key will be, having perfectly replaced Robert Key in his first season, whether he can follow up in the second and instigate a promotion push.

While it’s naïve to expect a title challenge to fall on one man, a lot of the Kent success is likely to correlate with the amount of runs he scores.

Moreover, a success in the pre-season tour allowed headlines of “Northeast takes South North as North go West in Middle East”, so that’s nice.

One to watch – Will Gidman

While Will Gidman may not count as an up and coming star at 32, sorry Will, his first full season at Canterbury is certainly one to keep an eye out.

A star at Gloucestershire two seasons ago, there was even a bandwagon set up in his favour that suggested an England call-up was deserving, delivering superb averages with the ball while also showing his capabilities with the bat.

However, after a step-up to Division One with Nottinghamshire, the wheels subsequently fell off said bandwagon.

Gidman struggled, initially in his matches and then for game-time itself, finding himself more often than not in the second XI.

But a loan to Kent revitalised him, with his tight and canny bowling once again coming back to the fore, while also scoring an unbeaten 63 in the final game of the season against Essex.

He has also started pre-season in fine form too, with two more half-centuries on the club’s tour to the West Indies.

Still averaging a staggering duo of 40 with the bat and 23 with the ball, this guy is certainly not done yet, and could be the key in promotional aspirations.

How they’ll fare

With the likes of Northeast and Daniel Bell-Drummond in the side, and Sam Billings when available and not with England, there is definitely some scope for Kent to score big runs this season, particularly in the home familiarities of Canterbury.

However, a lot of pressure will be on that top order to deliver, a fact only added to by the disappointment of New Zealand international Tom Latham opting for a switch to divisional rivals Durham.

There is still time for an overseas player to be confirmed though, so watch this space for what could be a key arrival.

Overseas blows have also been felt in the bowling department, with a busy summer for Kagiso Rabada – the South African quick making waves across the globe – denying him a return to the South East.

Therefore, the bowling could perhaps become over-reliant on Darren Stevens. A mercurial figurehead, the all-rounder shows no signs of slowing down but, set to be hit 41 before the first month of the season is out, this could be his farewell campaign.

Kent will therefore be hoping to sign him out in style, ideally with a trophy to lift, though a return to Division One could see him dust off the bowling shoes for one final time.

Whether they do it or not is a different matter. Ten teams in the division makes that far from an easy challenge, particularly with the strength of both Nottinghamshire and Sussex.

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