Two sides expected to challenge for the precious promotion spots will face off at Hove in Sussex’s first game of the season. While the hosts have been widely tipped in pre-season to finish on top at the end of the year, Kent announced their intentions in style with a 334-run drubbing of Gloucestershire at the Spitfire Ground.
Sussex drew ten of their matches last season as weather hit them hard, which undoubtedly hampered their push for Division One status. Nevertheless, they underperformed throughout the season and in many of the rain-affected games were lucky to escape with five points. For a team that a decade ago was celebrating their third title win in five years, it is a disappointing state to be in and 2017 is a key season for reviving their hopes.
They have recruited well, signing up David Wiese and Stiaan van Zyl on Kolpak deals, and they will feel right at home alongside one of the few South African Test players of recent years that county cricket has not tempted away from internationals, Vernon Philander. They also have Laurie Evans from Warwickshire, who is at something of a crossroads in his career. These are significant investments, from which the club will expect significant returns.
In any other season, Kent would be sampling the delights of the first division, but the ECB’s decision to promote just one team last year sees Kent scrapping it out in the lower tier once again.
They have brought in cult hero Will Gidman from Nottinghamshire, but have said goodbye to Fabian Cowdrey who asked for his contract to be terminated so he could pursue a music career (Please release me, anyone?). With a seamless blend of youth and experience throughout the order plus the star quality of Jason Gillespie at the start of the season, maybe it is his old teammates who will turn out to be the rock stars of 2017.
Vernon Philander burst onto the scene by destroying Australia in 2011. Injuries have limited him to 43 Tests thus far but he has taken 161 Test wickets at a virtually identical average to Dale Steyn. He averages 21 in first-class cricket.
He can swing the ball both ways at pace and has a wealth of experience of county cricket. Early season, April, fresh sea breeze, clouds overhead. Give him the new ball and watch it fly.
While he may seem like an obvious pick after his performance against Gloucestershire, there really is no looking past Darren Stevens here. At 40, he is hardly an unknown quantity among the batsmen who will be facing him, but his control and swing are deadly in these early season conditions.
More than handy with the bat – his 50 was an important part of Kent’s first-innings total of 298 – Stevens’ performance is bound to factor heavily in his team’s success by the sea.
Injuries to Ollie Robinson, Matt Machan, and Luke Wells prevent Sussex from naming a full-strength squad for this encounter, but with van Zyl, Wiese, Evans and Philander all making their debuts, we can expect a stern test for the visiting team.
Sussex squad: Luke Wright (c), Jofra Archer, Danny Briggs, Ben Brown (wk), Laurie Evans, Harry Finch, Steve Magoffin, Chris Nash, Vernon Philander, Delray Rawlins, Ajmal Shahzad, Stiaan van Zyl, Stuart Whittingham, David Wiese
Wayne Parnell is ready to make a start to his second stint with Kent, and Adam Rouse once again will step up to deputise for Sam Billings (IPL) behind the stumps.
Kent squad: Sam Northeast (c), Daniel Bell-Drummond, Mitchell Claydon, Matt Coles, Joe Denly, Sean Dickson, Will Gidman, James Harris, Wayne Parnell, Adam Rouse (wk), Darren Stevens, James Tredwell, Joe Weatherley
Kent come into this game having gone unbeaten in five matches versus Sussex (W2 D3).
The last time these sides met in Sussex, the visitors came away with the victory by a margin of an innings and 127 runs (August/September 2016).
Kent have only lost once in their last seven outings (W4 D2).
Darren Stevens took match figures of 8/64 for Kent during their season opener against Gloucestershire; posting a half-century with the bat too.
Weather and conditions
Dry, some clouds. Warmer than usual for this time of year. Last season, Kent thrashed Sussex by an innings and 127 runs. Time for revenge?
Date: 14th-17th April
Ground: 1st Central County Ground
Odds (SkyBet): Sussex 8/11, Kent 11/10