Sunday, 11th June, 2017. The sun shone not over Canterbury but it is easy to imagine Kent having basked in a light of their own, for they were a day from being one of only three remaining counties unbeaten in the red-ball season’s six matches.
Their record was saved by a rearguard action that saw numbers ten and 11, Yasir Shah and Mitchell Claydon, survive 46 balls together to deny Durham their first victory. It was a noble effort, and at the time suggested the kind of grit that might see them return to Division One for the first time since 2010.
Indeed, four of those six were victories, the smallest margin 147 runs. But such promise was to disappear almost immediately, failing to win another Specsavers County Championship fixture in a supremely disappointing season for those at the St. Lawrence Ground.
Defeat to eventual Division Two winners Worcestershire 11 days after the Durham salvation killed any momentum, while six successive draws in the back half of the campaign stole away any promotion hopes.
Bowling proved a particular problem as the season progressed, with only Darren Stevens, 41 years young, taking more than 32 Championship wickets, including a career-best 8-75 against Leicestershire. In that run of draws, only twice did they keep their opposition to under 350 in seven innings, taking just two first-innings leads, one of which comprised just a solitary run.
By the time Glamorgan beat them inside three days – their first win since June – on the season’s penultimate evening, Kent were stuck fifth and left to contemplate how a season that started so positively ended so unrewardingly.
It is ten years since their last of the big three trophies, the Twenty20 Cup in 2007 (Kent did claim the 2009 Division Two title). Joe Denly, one of three players still at the club from that successful final, scored more than double his tally from that season in this year’s Natwest T20 Blast but they had to settle for sixth in the South Group.
Such was the competitiveness of the group this time around that only a point and a poor net run-rate denied them a quarter-final spot; 11 runs more in their final match against Surrey and they would have had it.
But that near-miss was something to cheer about compared to their other white-ball ventures: no team claimed as few Royal London One-Day Cup points as Kent’s two, taken beating Middlesex. Seven defeats is an abysmal return and after three straight years of reaching the knockout stage, a profound sense of disappointment is to be expected.
“Everyone has things to prove at this back end of the season and we wanted to finish on a bit of a high with a couple of wins,” said head coach Matthew Walker after their penultimate Championship match at Chesterfield was abandoned without a ball bowled.
It was not to be and, instead, they have plenty of questions to ponder and much to prove come 2018.
Specsavers County Championship: 5th, Division Two
Natwest T20 Blast: 6th, South Group
Royal London One-Day Cup: 9th, South Group
SSCC: Joe Denly, 1165 runs
T20 Blast: Joe Denly, 567 runs
One-Day Cup: Daniel Bell-Drummond, 443 runs
SSCC: Darren Stevens, 62 wickets
T20 Blast: Adam Milne, 15 wickets
One-Day Cup: Matt Coles, 8 wickets
Player of the Season
Kent generally seemed to have little trouble scoring runs, with Joe Denly in particular dominating with the bat. The third leading run-scorer in Division Two, the 31-year-old hit four centuries including a double hundred. He was no less destructive in the Blast; one of only three players with twin hundreds, Denly also boasted the most runs in the entire competition.
24-year old Imran Qayyum is still new to professional cricket, but showed exactly what potential he has in his limited appearances this year. A left-arm orthodox bowler by trade, he was deployed largely in the Blast and picked up seven scalps at 8.3 runs an over. Six wickets in three Championship matches isn’t too bad, either. Far from the finished article, certainly, but plenty there to work with.
Could have done better
Sam Billings should be a mainstay of England’s white-ball sides. Yet he did little to smash the door down amidst a plethora of cricketers who might otherwise be considered. Appearances for his country against Ireland and South Africa meant he played just two One-Day Cup matches, and though his 361 runs in the Blast is far from abysmal, it wasn’t the big tally he would want to assert himself.
Need to work on
By and large, Kent’s shortcomings were a result of being unable to control a game with the ball; they lost their first three One-Day Cup matches bowling second, for instance, and never recovered from there. A greater discipline in that department, perhaps, and reflection on 2017 may have been much more positive.
Kent need at least one more bowler, either a spinner while Qayyum gains another year of experience or, if they think he’s ready for regular first-team cricket, a seamer – perhaps even two, should Stevens need to cut back. One more batsman is also possible.
An ultimately poor year at Kent with plenty of potential not built upon and little in the way of success across the formats. With such talented players in the ranks, it is fair to say the season’s performance was not good enough.