The 2018 season was something of a dream at Canterbury.
Promotion to Division One was a realistic aim for Kent at the start of the season, but a nine-year stint in the second tier is enough to dash even the most hopeful of followers.
But in the Championship it was to be Kent’s year and promotion back to Division One was secured, thanks largely to a superb bowling effort and in particular to one brilliant New Zealander.
Matt Henry finished as Division Two’s leading wicket-taker, racking up 75 scalps in just 11 matches. It was a sensational performance and one which made up for a below-par effort from the club’s batsmen.
Kent missed out narrowly to Warwickshire on the title, but most supporters will not care two hoots about that. The Canterbury crew are back with the big boys.
As far as white-ball cricket was concerned it was a case of so near and yet so far.
A Heino Kuhn-inspired Spitfires romped to their first one-day final for a decade, but the fireworks failed to light in a routine Royal London One-Day Cup win for Hampshire.
And familiar opponents ended Vitality Blast hopes – a quarter-final defeat to Lancashire, just as in 2015, ended white-ball chances for the season.
So that was 2018, what is 2019 likely to bring at Canterbury?
Staying in Division One has to be primary aim and it will be a difficult one to achieve. Kent will be favourites to head straight back down, but the County Championship is proving increasingly difficult to predict and Kent have as good a chance as any.
But there will be concerns over the squad. The batsmen struggled last season – only Joe Denly scored over 800 runs and not a single batsman averaged over 35.
Australian Matt Renshaw, who began the season so brilliantly for Somerset 12 months ago, will be in the ranks for the early part of the season but Kent will miss Joe Denly and Sam Billings in both Championship and early One-Day Cup matches due to their IPL commitments.
There is an enormous Henry-shaped hole in the bowling unit. Into his place step former Nottinghamshire seamer Matt Milnes and Netherlands paceman Fred Klaasen. Pressure is on these two bowlers to chip in with wickets.
As far as white-ball cricket goes, Kent look a solid unit. When Denly and Billings return they have dangerous England internationals and a well-balanced side. Matt Walker’s men will be confident.
Ins: Matt Milnes (Notts), Fred Klassen (Netherlands, EUP), Matt Renshaw (overseas), Mohammad Nabi (T20 overseas)
Outs: Will Gidman, James Tredwell, Matt Hun (all retired)
Heino Kuhn’s One-Day Cup displays last season were superb, hitting four centuries in five matches to fire the side to the Lord’s final. His role will be equally crucial in the four-day game this season, especially early in the campaign where he will lead the side with skipper Sam Billings and vice-captain Joe Denly away at the IPL. Kuhn will be a critical cog in Kent’s run-scoring operation and will hope to better his tally of last season where he failed to register a red-ball century.
Player to Watch
Rather than a young player breaking through, Kent’s player to watch this season is someone who has been on the lips of county cricket observers for some time. Daniel Bell-Drummond has been mentioned as a future England star for a number of years but has yet to really fulfil that potential. He gets a first crack at the top flight with a point to prove and the pressure on. A Championship return of 436 runs last season, with just one half-century and an average of 19.81, was disappointing if not dismal. That will need to improve this season and Kent really need him to deliver in order to put competitive totals on the board on a consistent basis.
Renshaw’s arrival for the early part of the season will provide a valuable boost, giving Kent some top-order quality and fire-power. New Zealand international paceman Adam Milne will be a strong addition to the T20 Blast bowling unit while the signing of Afghanistan all-rounder Mohammad Nabi for the Blast should prove very exciting. Nabi played for Leicestershire in the competition last season and caught the eye with his 86 from 32 balls against Lancashire.
How they’ll fare
It’s set to be an exciting season for Kent fans. The Championship will prove a challenge but if their key men can step up and with a touch of luck along the way, there’s no reason why 2018 can’t be as successful as 2019.
Kent followers would love some silverware. They came so close last season and look a team capable of competing to clinch a white-ball trophy this time around.
SSCC v Somerset – Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton – April 5, 11am
Odds (Sky Bet)
Specsavers County Championship – 14/1
Royal London One-Day Cup – 14/1
Vitality T20 Blast – 14/1