Rob Key’s name has slightly been forgotten this season, while astute judges have been busy purring about his hugely promising opening partner Joe Denly. But the Kent skipper has been most impressive, playing a pivotal role in his side’s Twenty20 Cup victory and averaging 50 in Division One of the County Championship.
Key’s talent and tenacity has been evident over his 15 Tests for his country but, too often, he has fallen to reckless misjudgments outside off-stump or, worse, to innocuous part-timers. Though he made a superb 221 against the West Indies in 2004, he could have few complaints about being discarded after the tour of South Africa in 2004/05; he made an 83 but played too many injudicious shots, and had technical deficiencies outside off-stump exposed by Shaun Pollock.
Key played a huge role in Kent’s Twenty20 Cup triumph; he now appears more phlegmatic, and increasingly adapt at pacing run chases. This was clearly in evidence during his four 50s (from just six innings) in this season’s competition; he was hugely adept at scoring off almost every ball, something he conspicuously failed to do during his brief sojourn in England’s one-day side. Yet these new-found qualities suggest that, despite his somewhat unathletic frame, he could be of great use in England’s limited-overs sides; he has greater knowledge of the art of constructing a one-day innings than, say, Alistair Cook.
A first-class average is 41 is testament to the fact that, though a reliable run-scorer in county cricket, Key has seldom enjoyed truly outstanding seasons. Upon being appointed captain last campaign, he disappointed hugely with the bat, averaging a meagre 32 for Kent. Yet his form has been excellent in all competitions this season; Key has gained in consistency and relish for responsibility, rising to the challenge when his side have needed him most. He has also proved a sufficiently shrewd skipper to emerge as a possible future replacement for Michael Vaughan.
In truth, Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara both probably have stronger cases for Test selection, given that they have impressed recently for England. But Key has the advantage of being an opener, making him a potential replacement for the patently out-of-sorts Andrew Strauss.
At 28, Key has clearly matured into a more battle-hardened player less prone to lapses in concentration. He has undoubtedly learnt from his previous experience in international cricket, and is a man with the character and class to aid England’s re-building process.