Specsavers County Championship: Division 2 (2017 performance 5th)
Royal London One-Day Cup: South Group (2017 performance 8th)
Vitality Blast: South Group (2017 performance 6th)
Captain: Sam Billings.
Vice-captain: Joe Denly
Head coach: Matt Walker
Assistant coach: Allan Donald
Director of cricket: Paul Downton
Overseas Players: Matt Henry (New Zealand) for SCC & RLODC). Adam Milne (New Zealand), Marcus Stoinis (Australia) for Vitality Blast
Ins and outs. In: Kuhn, Henry, Milne, Stoinis, Harry Podmore (Middlesex). Outs: Adam Ball, Hugh Bernard, Charlie Hartley, Wayne Parnell, Jimmy Neesham, Yasir Shah. Sam Northeast (Hampshire), Matt Coles (Essex).
Man on a Mission
Sam Billings. The new skipper has a lot on his plate in attempting to improve Kent’s domestic displays, whilst aiming to nail down his own berth in England’s white-ball squads. He possesses undoubted talent, but, at 26, his lop-sided career is in danger of passing him by after almost two seasons ‘carrying drinks’ on the England fringes. With 30 England caps and over 200 career appearances in white-ball cricket, Billings has yet to play his 50th first-class match for a county team badly in need of his skills and leadership.
One to Watch
Sean Dickson. A latecomer to the county circuit, the 26-year-old opening batsman already boasts a brace of first-class triple centuries and a double hundred to boot. South Africa born to a mother who hails from Kent, Dickson has planted deep roots in the Garden of England and is already a popular and hugely determined member of the county’s top-order. A steely right-hander with a fascination for technique, consistency will be the keyword for 2018 as Dickson looks to post his maiden 1,000-run season, improve on his first-class average of 37.91 and force his way into Spitfires’ one-day squads.
Darren Stevens. Dubbed as Kent’s answer to Benjamin Button, Stevens continues to be the fulcrum to Kent’s fortunes. Though he turns 42 on April 30, the Leicester-born all-rounder has become a Canterbury cult hero since leaving the East Midlands in 2004. He often opens the bowling in four-day cricket and has taken 421 first-class wickets – only six of which came for The Foxes. His explosive batting has also matured beyond the ‘pretty cameos’ of youth, making Stevens a dependable middle-order finisher in all formats, while his canny ‘dibbly-dobblers’ continue to frustrate much younger opponents.
Prospects for 2018
Despite losing two of their leading players in captain Sam Northeast and strike bowler Matt Coles, to Hampshire and Essex respectively, Kent have recruited quickly and strongly during the winter leaving supporters with cause for greater optimism.
A close season backroom re-shuffle has also seen the elevation of Ben Green to CEO and the return of ‘prodigal son’, Paul Downton, the county’s former wicketkeeper, in a newly-created post of director of cricket. Having suffered visa issues last summer, Allan Donald, the ex-South Africa firebrand, has also finally taken up his role of assistant coach to work alongside Matt Walker and with a brief to improve the county’s plethora of young, if underachieving pace bowlers.
Though new skipper Billings will miss the start of the campaign through Indian Premier League commitments, he has a worthy deputy in Denly, the club’s player-of-the-season for 2017, who has also excelled throughout his winter stints at the Big Bash and Pakistan Super League, as well as throughout Kent’s overseas matches in the West Indies Super 50 competition based in Antigua where, encouragingly, the Spitfires reached the semi-finals.
Kent will be bolstered for the entire summer by the arrival of new Kolpak signing Heino Kuhn, the South Africa Test batsman, and Kiwi firebrand Matt Henry, who has signed to play the first seven four-day games and the Royal London One-Day Cup qualifiers. Adam Milne (New Zealand) and Marcus Stoinis (Australia) will arrive mid-summer for Spitfires’ Vitality Blast campaign.
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