Sam Northeast says it is the right time for him to have left Kent after the batsman was confirmed on Monday to have signed a four-year deal at Hampshire.
Ashford-born Northeast has been at Canterbury since his youth, and captained Kent in all three formats since 2016, but after indicating that he was hesitant to sign a new long-term contract, he was replaced as skipper by Sam Billings.
Eight clubs including seven from Division One were interested in his signature but Hampshire, for whom he nearly signed three years ago, emerged successful.
“[It’s] been a bit of a strange winter, but finally we managed to get it over the line and I’m very excited about the next chapter,” he said.
“It feels like the right time to make the move, and I know I had a chat with Hampshire [three years ago], I was really impressed then with the setup, the facilities, the people, and talking to them again it just felt like the right move at the right time.
“I met with some really good people, a lot of really good counties, but in the end I think [Hampshire is] the team that is going places.
“Looking at the squad, it looks really exciting and to be a part of that, to try and win some trophies in the future and to try and get to the next step in my career, to try and kick on, play international cricket; I feel this is a place where I can do that.”
In Northeast, Hampshire have signed a player with proven credentials. He has passed 1000 first-class runs in each of the past three seasons and reached 2000 runs across the formats in both 2015 and 2016.
The 28-year-old is expected to fill a vacancy in the batting order left by George Bailey, who will not return to the club this season.
Northeast batted at four in Kent’s Specsavers County Championship side last season and wants to continue that role at The Ageas Bowl.
“I think four, three, five – that sort of area in all forms I’ve played at my best. I spent a lot of time opening at the start of my career and slowly slid down and found that to be a really nice place for me. So hopefully I can thrive in and around that middle order place.”
Hampshire have not won silverware since 2014, when the club won Division Two, with a white-ball double of the 40-over and 20-over trophies in 2012. It has been 45 years since Hampshire last won the Championship.
With Kent’s promotion charge falling short in both 2016 – due to Essex claiming the sole promotion slot – and 2017, Northeast is confident that his new team will be able to claim a title.
“You just look down at that squad now and you do think that we have the potential to go on and win trophies in one-day cricket and the Championship, and I think it is a team which has got a nice blend of experience and a lot of good young players coming through as well.
“And that blend could be a really exciting prospect. So I’m ready to get stuck in, and hopefully contribute as well as I can and be a big part of the success.”
The move is likely to raise some eyebrows among those who have tipped Northeast for international success. He is set to travel to Antigua with the England Lions on Monday, the first time he has been involved with an England squad since facing Bangladesh with the under-19s in 2009, and his first appearance in a Lions squad.
It is thought that a move to Division One could do for him what it did for Mark Stoneman, who scored 828 Championship runs in his first nine matches for Surrey last year to earn him a Test call-up against West Indies in August.
Northeast has not played Division One cricket since 2010 and, with an increasing view among those in county cricket that the national selectors give more weight to runs in the top flight, he knows he has been afforded the ability to make his mark.
“Hopefully it works out in the same case as Mark, but the big thing is playing Division One cricket again and proving myself at that level. I think selectors, whether they like to say it or not, probably do take a little bit more ownership on those runs.
“It was always the ambition to get Kent back up to Division One and I’m sure they’ll be pushing again, they’ve got a good squad there, and I think everyone wants to be playing in Division One.
“That’s the ambition of every player, I think, in England. They want to play at the highest level possible, and so that’s why I’ve got a great opportunity here to play at that level.
“It’s a next step for me to go and score Division One runs and then the next step onto England. It’s an exciting challenge for me going forward.”