2018 is a year that will live long in the memory at Canterbury as a resounding success.
Such is the nature of these things, Kent have nothing tangible to show for that success. They came oh so close to needing to invest in some silver polish – beaten in their first Lord’s final for ten years – and almost clinched the Division Two trophy.
But promotion back to the top flight of the County Championship for the first time since 2010 was objective number one and their performances in doing so were quite superb.
Spearheaded by the brilliance of New Zealand Test seamer Matt Henry, whose haul of wickets was the firepower which delivered so many of Kent’s victories, Kent’s bowling attack was consistently too strong for the rest of the second tier.
— Kent Cricket 🏏 (@kentcricket) September 28, 2018
They, like many others this season, didn’t put huge runs on the board. They took just 16 batting bonus points compared to Division Two winners Warwickshire’s 41. But Kent’s bowlers were able to win matches, clinching more victories than anyone else in the second tier and sealing promotion with a game to spare.
That’s not to overlook the contribution of Joe Denly and Heino Kuhn, both of whom can look back on 2018 with a great deal of individual pride. For Kent supporters, the prospect of watching Division One cricket at Canterbury next season is a thrilling one.
White-ball cricket was almost equally successful. Making a Lord’s final again was a big thing for the Spitfires. Having finished third in the South Group, Kent had to win two more matches in order to make the final.
They dethroned reigning champions Notts by hammering them at Trent Bridge, before edging a thrilling contest against Worcestershire in the semi-finals.
Heino Kuhn set an English List A record on that run to the final, hitting four centuries in five matches. He was unable to extend it in the showpiece though, as Kent were beaten fairly comfortably by Hampshire in a disappointing end to such a wonderful campaign.
Their hunt for silverware would begin again with the Vitality T20 Blast. Once again, the Spitfires were on the money. Denly’s leg-spin became a revelation while his batting was integral in them picking up win after win.
Just two defeats from the group stage earned them a second-placed finish, level on points with group winners Somerset, and set up a rematch of the 2015 quarter-final with Lancashire at Canterbury.
But once again it was the Lightning who triumphed, easily winning a low-scoring game. For all the promise that Kent’s white-ball formats had offered, both ended in something of a whimper.
Some sides may have allowed that disappointment to impact upon their quest for promotion. But Kent did not, their march back to Division One was relentless and they will deservedly be dining at English cricket’s top table once again next season.
The Division Two title showdown against Warwickshire in the final match? Well the less said about that, the better.
So much of the credit for this season has to go to head coach Matt Walker. There were plenty of backroom changes at the club last winter, with the likes of Allan Donald joining the coaching staff, but Walker was able to keep the club moving forward and appears to have knitted together a very tight team.
The next step will be attempting to establish themselves in the top flight and working on adding some silverware to the Canterbury cabinet.
But that can wait, for now Kent fans can bask in the glory that was 2018.
SSCC: 2nd, Division Two (promoted)
T20 Blast: QF – lost to Lancashire
RLODC: Runners-Up – lost to Hampshire
SSCC: Joe Denly – 828 runs
T20 Blast: Joe Denly – 402 runs
RLODC: Heino Kuhn – 696 runs
SSCC: Matt Henry – 75 wickets
T20 Blast: Joe Denly – 20
RLODC: Matt Henry & Darren Stevens – 16 wickets
Player of the season
There are a few players in the Kent ranks that pushed hard for this accolade, but it’s impossible to look beyond Joe Denly. He swept the board at the PCA Awards and for good reason. To hit the most runs in both the Championship and T20 Blast – as well as finishing as top wicket-taker for Kent in the Blast – marks a sensational season for England’s latest Test call-up.
It has to be said however that Matt Henry was the key man in securing promotion. Kent didn’t pile on the runs, but Henry’s 75 wickets were the difference between them and their challengers.
At the tender age of just 20, Zak Crawley has had a big breakthrough season for Kent. He made his first-class debut at the back end of last season, but has established himself in the side this year and performed admirably. Crawley notched four half-centuries and a superb maiden first-class century with his 168 in the penultimate game of the season against Glamorgan. Certainly one to watch.
Could have done better
This was a tough one as so many Kent players played a star role somewhere in their season. But they’d have liked a little more from Daniel Bell-Drummond in the Championship, just as he would expect a little more from himself. Just the one half-century and an average of 19.81 isn’t the return he’d expect, but he did perform much better in the 50-over format, hitting four half-centuries.
Need to work on
Simply they need to work on putting some silverware in the cabinet. It’s been a very successful season for Kent but the next step is getting over the line when it comes to the nitty gritty of competitions. The One-Day Cup final loss was a disappointing blow and they will have been frustrated in their Blast quarter-final performance.
Kent have already signed up Dutch pace bowler Fred Klaasen on a two-year deal. Klaasen spent time around the club this season and will bolster their bowling ranks. They will surely also be desperate to try and get a return for Henry as they bid to compete in the top flight.
If you’d have offered this season to anyone connected with Kent back in April they’d have bitten your hand off. Promotion was crucial and Division One will be all the richer for Kent’s return. With a Lord’s final and a strong display in the T20 Blast as well, it’s been a job well done.