Five years have passed since these two sides met in Division One – the 2010 season signalling the end of their time in the County Championship top tier. And while both have come close to a return, their prolonged stay in Division Two reads like a warning sign to those who think they can bounce-back instantly following relegation.
But confidence is high in both camps, with a focus on promoting youth seemingly set to prosper after a couple of years acclimatising. Importantly for Essex, while promising youngsters Tymal Mills and Ben Foakes departed for Sussex and Surrey respectively, the majority of their squad were retained.
They’re further buoyed by the return of Jesse Ryder, who led the County’s wicket-taking table with 44 scalps; expect an undercooked batting display of 630 runs to be bettered too. The New Zealand international’s early season form could be crucial to their promotion hopes as Essex make do without Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate, who are both away at the IPL.
For Kent, travelling to Chelmsford is a difficult opening fixture, where Essex are unbeaten in their last 12 matches. But with youth, which Kent have in abundance, comes a fearlessness that is unlikely to be broken by unfavourable statistics. In what was a quiet summer for Kent, the signing of old boy Matt Coles might prove to be decisive as they attempt to contend for a top-two spot. As well as beefing up the bowling, his arrival should see Darren Steven’s load lightened, in turn allowing for greater efforts with the bat.
The troublesome opening spot has hindered Essex for years; their inability to find a replacement for the absence of Alastair Cook while away with England a problem which has never been suitably addressed. But the emergence of Nick Browne last season, alongside an improving Tom Westley, looks to have changed all that. Brought in midway through the season, having previously made three appearances for the County in 2013, Browne struck 650 Championship runs at an average of 54.16, demonstrating that he posses the attitude to score big runs at the top of the order. Backed up by a strong pre-season in which he made back-to-back hundreds and Browne has made a wonderful start to his two-year contract with Essex.
On paper, Matt Coles‘ 2014 season with Hampshire looked to have gone well, and the memory of being expelled from an England Lions tour the year before banished. A T20 Finals Day appearance and promotion to Division One secured, the brief press release sent out in early March announcing Coles’ departure came as a surprise. Now he finds himself back home, at a county he knows well and full of friendly faces; captain Rob Key even had Coles help him with building work on his house during the off-season. At least that should have got him used to labourious work, which is likely to continue as he shoulders the brunt of Kent’s new-ball bowling, starting on Sunday against Essex.
Reece Topley and fellow bowler Matt Salisbury are ruled out of the opening county fixture for Essex through injury, while Bopara and ten Doeschate are unavailable due to IPL commitments. Cook’s perennial England duties means he will not be adding to his seven Championship matches in the past three seasons. Essex do have the decision to make whether they go with an all out seam attack, utilising Westley as the spin option, or starting Monty Panesar. With early conditions likely to be cloudy Panesar may make way.
Essex Squad: James Foster (captain, wicketkeeper), Nick Browne, Dan Lawrence, Jaik Mickleburgh, Tom Moore, Graham Napier, Monty Panesar, Mark Pettini, Jamie Porter, Jesse Ryder, Greg Smith, Tom Westley
Few clubs can boost a squad containing as many home-grown players as Kent, with 10 of their 12 coming through the County. Old academy products Joe Denly and Coles return, both hoping to find the form and consistency that saw them pull on national colours. Brendan Nash is missing with an illness, and he’s joined on the sidelines by Ben Harmison (knee) and David Griffiths (tricep). Ivan Thomas is likely to play ahead of Charlie Hartley, having featured in more pre-season games.
Kent Squad: Robert Key (captain), Daniel Bell-Drummond, Sam Billings (wicketkeeper), Mitch Claydon, Matt Coles, Fabian Cowdrey, Joe Denly, Charlie Hartley, Adam Riley, Darren Stevens, Ivan Thomas
Weather and conditions
A return to more recognised April weather sees the game start under cloudy skies before giving way to intermittent sun. Sixteen wickets fell on the first day of a pre-season match at Chelmsford and, with overcast conditions, whoever wins the toss is probably going to field first.
Date: 19th – 22nd April 2015
Ground: County Ground, Chelmsford
Time: 11:00 am
Umpires: Paul Baldwin and Neil Mallender
Odds (via Skybet): Essex 8/13, Kent 11/8
LV County Championship Match Stats (in association with Opta):
- – Sam Billings and James Foster both notched up 56 dismissals in Division Two last year, only Mark Wallace of Glamorgan recorded more.
- – Billings made more stumpings (6) than any other wicket-keeper in county cricket last season.
- – Kent have lost just twice in their last 13 games when they have won the toss, one of these defeats coming against Essex in Chelmsford last season.