Kent host Gloucestershire on the opening day of the season for the second successive year when the County Championship returns on Friday. The hosts thrashed their opponents by 334 runs a year ago and the visitors will be looking for a much better showing this time around.
It has been a difficult winter at the Spitfire Ground, with Sam Northeast leaving the club to join Hampshire.
The former captain left citing his ambition to play for England as his main reason for joining the Division One outfit. His departure leaves a gaping hole in the Kent batting order which is also without new captain Sam Billings for the opening month of the season due to his IPL commitments.
Joe Denly will deputise in the wicket-keepers absence and will surely be pleased to get back to cricketing matters on the pitch following a tumultuous winter.
He will have a number of new recruits at his disposal including Harry Podmore, who joined the club from Middlesex just last week.
Gloucestershire have had a far more settled off season however they also have a new captain in the form Chris Dent.
The opener takes over from Gareth Roderick and will lead the team in the County Championship and Royal London One-Day Cup.
His first task is to help improve his sides early season form, having not won their opening match in the Championship since 2011.
Yet the end of season improvements from last year, especially in the batting, should give him confidence that his team will not be dismissed for 61 again, as they were during this fixture in 2017.
Kolpak signings are a controversial subject in county cricket however in Heino Kuhn Kent have signed a batsmen that should help replace the runs of Sam Northeast. The 34-year-old averages 43 in first class cricket and has also played four Test matches for his country. He has already shown off his credentials to the Kent faithful with an unbeaten 105 in their pre-season friendly against Surrey and will be hoping for a similar impact in his first competitive game for the club.
Eyes were raised when Gloucestershire announced Dan Worrall as their overseas signing for the opening three months of the season. However further examination provides evidence he could be a valuable asset for the county, who quite often go with a batsman as their main overseas player. He took 34 wickets at 28.6 during this year’s Sheffield Shield and early season English conditions should suit his bowling style. He wiill make his debut here and his performance with the new ball will be crucial to his side’s chances.
Kent could hand debuts to Harry Podmore, Heino Kuhn and Matt Henry, all of whom are in their 13-man-squad. However Mitchell Claydon and James Tredwell are both missing due to injury.
Kent Squad: Joe Denly (c), Daniel Bell-Drummond, Zak Crawley, Sean Dickson, Will Gidman, Calum Haggett, Matt Henry, Heino Kuhn, Harry Podmore, Adam Rouse (wk), Darren Stevens, Grant Stewart, Ivan Thomas
Gloucestershire have their own injury problems with last year’s new ball combination of David Payne and Liam Norwell both unavailable due to injury, but Ryan Higgins is in line for his first Championship appearance for the club. Young batsman James Bracey could also feature despite his ongoing university studies.
Gloucestershire Squad: Chris Dent (c), James Bracey, George Hankins, Ryan Higgins, Benny Howell, Chris Liddle, Craig Miles, Kieran Noema-Barnett, Gareth Roderick (wk), Jack Taylor, Matt Taylor, Graham Van Buuren, Dan Worrall.
Weather and conditions
The weather has hampered both Kent and Gloucestershire’s pre-season preparations. However the forecast is for dry and mild conditions throughout the match and the sun may even shine on days two and four.
Date: 13th-16th April 2018
Ground: The Spitfire Ground
Odds (SkyBet): Kent 4/7, Gloucestershire 11/8