2007 in a Nutshell:
Limited overs cricket was the obvious success for Kent last season. Winning the Twenty20 Cup was a huge achievement for the players with Rob Key playing a hugely important role as captain and premier batsman. The club performed well in the Friends Provident without being brilliant, and in a very competitive and tight Division 2 in the Pro 40, not gaining promotion was a disappointment, especially after winning the Twenty20. In the County Championship, relegation was just avoided and winning only 3 games showed that the side lacked firepower with the ball. As a whole, apart from winning some silverware, the season was a slight disappointment, with too many players underperforming.
So what can Kent fans hope for in 2008? In the County Championship, the season will perhaps be much of the same as last year, if the bowling attack does not improve. If Kent's bowlers can take wickets regularly this year, a top 4 or 5 finish is a realistic aim. In the limited overs competitions, promotion from Division 2 of the Pro 40 should be approached as a must, while defence of the Twenty20 title will prove to be very tough. A quarter-final appearance in the Friends Provident is also achievable.
Scoring runs was not really a problem for Kent last year, with 43 bonus points gained with the bat, only bettered by Yorkshire in the division. All of the top four averaged over 40 in the CC in 2007 and 19 hundreds were scored between the top six, an impressive record. It wasn't only the top six that scored runs however, messrs Arafat, Tredwell and McLaren scored vital runs down the order. James Tredwell also showed how versatile and competent he is with the bat in filling in for Matt Walker at number four, in the process scoring an amazing hundred against Yorkshire, to save the game at Tunbridge Wells. Martin Van Jaarsveld will be as consistent and solid as ever at number three, but Darren Stevens needs to still fulfill his undoubted potential, even at the now latter stage of his career. ECB National Academy opener Joe Denly and England hopeful Rob Key were nothing short of superb at the top of the order last year, with the formers debut full season unfortunately tailing away in the second half of the campaign. Ex-England keeper Geraint Jones didn't perform as was expected last year and if Justin Kemp returns, he will probably find himself batting at number seven this yearThe massively talented 18 year old Sam Northeast will get more opportunities this year to score first class runs, and in Neil Dexter Kent have a highly capable and classy middle order batsman waiting in the wings.
The area that must improve if Kent are to even think about having a better season in the four day game. Kent fans can look forward to witnessing the talented Amjad Khan back in the side and if he can recapture the form that got him England 'A' recognition, the Kent bowling attack will be led impressively. As mentioned before, Yasir Arafat will have to show his worth with the ball as the overseas player and on the basis that Kemp will sign, he will be a very handy change bowler. Ryan McLaren was very impressive last year and he will hope to carry on in that vein. Martin Saggers will use all his knowledge and experience with the new ball when he plays whilst James Tredwell will bowl a lot of overs with his off-spinners. One definite worry however is the lack of spin bowling options in reserve if Tredwell were to get injured. With the legendary Min Patel retiring there is no obvious replacement and whilst Denly's leggy's are improving, they are nowhere near good enough to be used as a genuine, consistent threat.
Robert Joseph and Simon Cook will be used as backups throughout the season, but Cook will play a lot more limited overs games as he is a very canny and useful operator, especially with the keeper up to the stumps. Add to that Azhar Mahmood, who will probably be in and out of the CC side, but a regular fixture in one day competitions and on paper the Kent bowling unit certainly looks effective, without being imperious, but can they perform this season?
Kemp (assuming his ban is overturned)
Saggers and Mahmood will replace anyone in this side with a re-jig of the batting order if needed. Assuming the batsmen will fire once again, the bowlers have to make sure they perform as well to give the team as good a chance as possible to win games - after all, 20 wickets need to be taken to win a CC game.
One-day and Twenty20
Kemp (assuming his ban is overturned)
Kent often try and make use of the early fielding restrictions so expect to see one of a number of pinch hitters being used at 3 or 4, depending on who's playing of course. Cook, Mahmood and Dexter will play a lot of one day games as this side will constantly be shuffled around. Don't hold your breath with regards to seeing the rather large frame of Matt Walker playing a lot of one day games as it is his benefit year. Also, someone like Dexter is better suited to modern one day cricket as he bats, bowls and fields. Matty Walker probably has just the one discipline to offer.
It's really hard to look beyond the immensely gifted Robert Key. With a Test double hundred to his name, an average of nearly 57 for 2007, and the fact he's the skipper, it's plain to see how vitally important he is to the side. He will have hopes of regaining a place in the England Test Team and will want to put pressure on the likes of Strauss and Bell by scoring a sack full of runs. Amjad Khan will be very important with the new ball as the spearhead of the attack, with his venomous away swingers and as the season progresses and the pitches dry, Tredwell will become more of a threat.
With no one in the side being an unknown quantity this year, picking a rising star is difficult. Joe Denly is fairly comfortably the youngest member of the side but with his outstanding year last year, and touring with the England Academy, he could hardly be described as 'rising'. Whilst he may not play a huge amount of games, Sam Northeast has bags of potential to be a star. He made his first class debut in the last game of last season at just 17, but only managed a 5 and 0. At 13 years old, he scored 19 hundreds in a season for his school, averaging 291 and in 2006 he played against the then touring Sri Lankans for a Sir JP Getty XI. Graham Ford witnessed his innings of 62 not out with great pleasure and commented, "There were two moments that stood out: firstly when he came down the wicket to on-drive Muralitharan for four, then when he rocked on to the back foot to force a decent length ball from Nuwan Zoysa through extra cover. They were flashes of class." It's clear to see that this mercurial talent has a wonderful future ahead of him, let's hope we can witness it this year!
Captain and Coach:
Graham Ford showed how much potential he thinks the club has when he turned down the chance to be coach of India. Whilst the pressures of the India job would be incredible, the lure of it must have been very hard to resist and Ford should be commended on his loyalty and obvious desire to help Kent CCC progress. He seems to have a good relationship with Key, which is clearly very important and based on the success in the T20, something must be going right. County Championship performances need to improve this season and the club could have perhaps been a little more committed in adding players to the squad, as it does seem a little bare. Kent fans should have faith in the Ford-Key team however and it will be interesting to see how the season pans out for the south-east county.