Two sides, who both have plenty of optimism heading into the 2021 season, meet at Wantage Road to kick off the new County Championship campaign.
Based on 2019 finishing positions, Kent are the highest ranked side in Group 3 having finished 4th in Division One. This was an impressive return for Matt Walker’s side in their first season back in the top flight, and they enjoyed a strong campaign in the limited red ball cricket that was possible in 2020. Only Essex defeated Kent in the Bob Willis Trophy, as they finished a valiant second to the eventual champions with an impressive points total of 82 from their 5 games.
Northants also enjoyed the last full red ball campaign two summers ago. They came from miles off the pace to finish 2nd in Division Two, behind runaway champions Lancashire.
David Ripley’s team were inconsistent in the shortened 2020 season. They comfortably saw off Glamorgan and showed their fighting spirit to earn an unlikely draw against Warwickshire but suffered horrendous batting collapses against both Somerset & Worcestershire. Their final match against Gloucestershire was cancelled after a positive Covid-19 case.
Of the three groups for the revised County Championship format for 2021, the one involving these two looks the toughest to call.
Yorkshire finished top of the Northern section in the Bob Willis Trophy last summer and were only three points off qualifying for the Lord’s Final while Lancashire should be more competitive than they were last summer when they were not able to play at Old Trafford. Sussex & Glamorgan are also likely to improve on disappointing showings in 2020.
Northants & Kent have realistic hopes of securing one of the top two places in the group, but both will know that they have to hit the ground running and this represents a winnable opportunity for both.
Wantage Road in April can often be a very unpleasant place for batsman to try and start their season with a bang, especially if Ben Sanderson gets into a rhythm. The former Yorkshire bowler was a star in Northants’ promotion winning season of 2019 and has claimed 160 wickets in the last three seasons. His best moment in 2020 came against Somerset, where he claimed match figures of 9-89 and he holds the key if Northants are to be successful in this format.
A behind closed doors Championship fixture in Northampton is a far cry from what Zak Crawley faced during England’s tour of India, but the 23-year old will be keen to make a good start to the domestic summer. Having endured a difficult time in Sri Lanka, Crawley made a measured 53 during the chaotic day/night test in Ahmedabad but finished with scores of 9 & 5 in the final test. These opening Championship matches will be important for him to cement his place in the England squad for the two test series with New Zealand in June.
Northants will be without their overseas signing Wayne Parnell who is still in quarantine after his arrival from South Africa was delayed. David Ripley is hoping to have him available for the trip to Lancashire next week.
Northants squad – Adam Rossington (c)(wk), Gareth Berg, Nathan Buck, Ben Curran, Emilio Gay, Rob Keogh, Simon Kerrigan, Ben Sanderson, Tom Taylor, Charlie Thurston, Ricardo Vasconcelos, Alex Wakely, Jack White
Kent will be captained by Daniel Bell-Drummond for the first time in red ball cricket. This will be the tenth season that Bell-Drummond has represented Kent, but he will lead the county for the first time with Sam Billings away at the IPL. The 27-year old took the reins in the T20 Blast last summer as Kent reached the quarter finals.
Kent squad – Daniel Bell-Drummond (c), Jordan Cox, Zak Crawley, Miguel Cummins, Joe Denly, Fred Klaassen, Jack Leaning, Matt Milnes, Marcus O’Riordan, Harry Podmore, Ollie Robinson, Darren Stevens, Grant Stewart
Weather and conditions
While it looks set to be a largely dry start to the season in Northampton, it is likely to be cold for the fielders at a venue that is chilly at the best of times at this stage in the year! There is a threat that some rain could disrupt play on the final day on Sunday. However, red ball matches at Wantage Road in recent seasons have rarely gone the distance. Last season saw just one of the three games require a final day and that was only because of time lost earlier in the match.
Date: 8th-11th April
Ground: Wantage Road