Under the Friday night lights of the NatWest T20 Blast, Kent can’t stop winning and are sitting pretty atop the South Group. Surrey, meanwhile, despite a few positive signs of late, are languishing near the foot of the table. But when the two sides meet in the rather more sedate atmosphere of the LV County Championship on Monday, they’ll find their fortunes reversed, with Surrey sitting in second and Kent second from bottom of Division Two.
Five defeats and just two wins in nine matches have yielded a miserable Championship points harvest in the Garden of England this season and left Kent scrabbling around in the dirt towards the bottom of Division Two. A solid individual batting record aside, Kent’s on-field captain, Sam Northeast, has been starved of success in red-ball cricket this season and, like many of us when we’re hungry, appears to be getting a bit grumpy about affairs. His dyspeptic mood was in evidence after Kent’s last Championship game, the resounding victory against wooden-spoon rivals, Leicestershire, with Ashford’s prodigal son much less interested in celebrating a rare win than in bemoaning the state of Division Two pitches.
Kent have passed 300 runs just twice in eighteen Championship innings with only Northeast and Joe Denly averaging over 29 with the bat. A preponderance of ‘result’ wickets, as Northeast described them, is one explanation for the team’s poor batting performances in four-day cricket this term, but coach Jimmy Adams’ men will have to look for a different excuse should they fail again on a batsman-friendly Oval pitch.
Kent’s batsmen will be up again a Surrey bowling attack brimming with confidence after two of their number recorded career-best innings figures in the Brown Caps’ previous match, an innings defeat of Gloucestershire. Tom Curran’s pace demolished Gloucestershire’s first innings, bringing him 7-20, whilst Zafar Ansari’s rapidly maturing left-arm spin returned 6-30 in their second as Surrey romped to a fifth Championship win of the season and kept their promotion bid on course. With injuries or form issues confining a number of Surrey’s bigger name bowlers to the physio’s room or the 2nd XI, Surrey’s youngsters – Curran, Ansari as well as Matt Dunn, have led the attack admirably – ably supported by their young-at-heart skipper, Gareth Batty.
Surrey’s batsmen – also characterised by their blend of youth and experience – have ensured Batty will enter this contest in far higher spirits than his opposite number. Five of the top 25 run scorers in Division Two have ‘Surrey’ in brackets after their name – just two have ‘Kent’ – whilst nine Surrey players are averaging in excess of 40 with the bat. Amid such widespread success, the value in singling out individuals is limited, but Ben Foakes’ century in the match against Gloucestershire – his first for Surrey since joining from Essex towards the end of last season – was yet more good news for the county’s young-guns.
One thing about which Sam Northeast can have no complaints is the work of his seamers. Matt Coles, relishing being back at home after a gap year in Division One for Hampshire, is second in the list of Division Two wicket takers with 52 scalps at 20.85 apiece and comes into this game having achieved a career best match return of 10-94 in the win against Leicestershire. Ivan Thomas has impressed in his first season as a Kent first team regular, taking 23 Championship wickets at an average of 26.78, although is a doubt for this fixture after picking up a side injury early on in the game at Leicester.
Despite being at the other end of his career, Darren Stevens shows no signs of reduced potency, with the ball at least. His 41 Championship wickets so far this season have cost just 19.56 runs each and he goes into this game needing one wicket to reach 300 first-class dismissals. The veteran is certainly respected, if not feared, by Surrey, with three of the squad – Rory Burns, Ben Foakes and Matt Dunn – listing Stevens as the best player in county cricket in their 2015 Cricketers Who’s Who entry!
Kent have not had much use for a spinner so far in the campaign, but on an Oval wicket that Zafar Ansari exploited to great effect against Gloucestershire, James Tredwell might prove an intelligent selection – assuming Kent’s batsmen can provide him something to bowl at.
If Kent are to compete in this fixture, they will need significant contributions from their top order. After two centuries in consecutive Championship fixtures in early May, Daniel Bell-Drummond has experienced a lean patch in the tournament thereafter. An impressive hundred against the touring Australians, and 77 as part of a match-winning opening partnership against Somerset in the Blast on Friday night, should mean Bell-Drummond’s confidence is high. He will relish batting on a flat Oval deck.
Early inroads with the new ball could see Kent succumb to another low total and so, fresh from his career-best exploits against Gloucestershire, Surrey’s Tom Curran will be a sharp weapon in Surrey’s armoury as he looks to add to his impressive wicket haul this season. His capacity for lower-order runs is a bonus.
Gary Wilson is away on international duty with Ireland at the World Twenty20 Qualifier. Dean Elgar has returned to South Africa after his ten-day stint with Surrey. Kumar Sangakkara is available for Surrey once more after returning from his final test match in Colombo. Matt Dunn joins the existing injury list with a side strain.
Surrey Squad: Gareth Batty (capt.), Zafar Ansari, Rory Burns, James Burke, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Arun Harinath, Tim Linley, Jason Roy, Kumar Sangakkara, Dominic Sibley, Vikram Solanki
Ivan Thomas is set to miss out after sustaining a side injury against Leicestershire. South African-born, but a British passport holder, Sean Dickson is reportedly set for his Championship debut having signed a two-year contract after impressing for the Kent Second XI.
Kent Squad: TBA
Weather and Conditions
Some rain is forecast on each of the four days, with day one (Monday) looking likely to be severely weather-affected. In contrast to recent weeks, sunshine will likely be in short supply.
Date: 13th – 16th July
Ground: Kia Oval, Kennington
Time: 11.00 am
Umpires: Steve Garratt and Ben Debenham
Odds (Skybet): Surrey 2/5 ; Kent 7/4