Continuing our season reviews, here is an assessment of Kent's frustrating season.
Championship Division One – 8th;
FP Trophy – Finalist (1st, South-East Division);
Twenty20 Cup – Finalist (3rd, South Division;
Pro40 Division Two - 4th
It was so nearly a great season for Kent. Two domestic Cup finals; and Championship favourites halfway through the penultimate round of games. As it was, they lost both finals and were somehow relegated from the Championship, ending their proud record of having never played in Division Two.
How did this happen? Kent coach Graham Ford was frank that "Possibly over the last few years we focused a lot more of our preparations on one-day cricket and even our summer signings have been one-day cricket orientated.” Along with Essex, Kent proved themselves to be the best white-ball side in the country in 2008. But so many players – Justin Kemp, Azhar Mahmood, Darren Stevens, James Tredwell and even the much-vaunted opening pair of Rob Key and Joe Denly – made a far greater impact in the shorter versions of the game. Indeed, Kent’s great strength in limited-overs – a plethora of players able to contribute with bat and ball – proved their weakness in the longer format.
Too reliant on van Jaarsveld
The lack of specialists was particularly noticeable with regards to their batting. With only Martin van Jaarsveld (see below) averaging over 31 from those who played more than six games, the batting line-up was desperately susceptible to collapse. Several options were tried, with players being shuffled around – including the mysteriously under-used, and now departed, Neil Dexter – and lower-order players tried at number three. James Tredwell understandably struggled there, but Geraint Jones had a little more success.
Jones’s brilliant, counter-attacking 91 from just 88 balls at Liverpool in the penultimate game briefly made them county Championship favourites. But the bowling, normally their strength, allowed Lancashire back into the game before yet another feeble collapse saw them subside to a defeat. In the final analysis, Kent were made to pay for two narrow losses on ‘sporting’ pitches – the other being the Riverside pitch that prompted Key to launch a scathing attack on the “muppet show”.
Skipper Key had a particularly chastening last few weeks, as the Twenty20 Cup, the England captaincy, the Friends Provident Trophy, Pro40 promotion and Division One Championship cricket all slipped from his grasp. His commitment cannot be doubted and, alongside Denly, he formed perhaps the best limited-overs partnership around. Mixing powerful orthodoxy with daring – but calculated innovation – their stand of 89 in the Twenty20 Cup final, apparently free of risk, showed both could have much to offer England’s limited-overs sides. But their Championship displays were pitiful in comparison. Conditions were frequently tough, yes, but averages of 31 apiece were a huge factor behind their relegation.
The bowling was rather better – although Tredwell’s season, on the back of an England ODI tour spot, was a major letdown. The star was Robbie Joseph who established himself with a superlative run in August, including 6/32 at the Riverside and a spell in the FP Final that could have been match-turning – even if he could not quite keep it up until the end. Amjad Khan appeared almost back to his best after his injury-ravaged last few campaigns, giving much hope for next seasons. Throughout, however, imports Yasir Arafat and Ryan McLaren were exceptional.
Arafat was fantastic in the Twenty20 Cup, claiming 23 scalps with his band of yorkers and variations, and was also brilliant in the run to the FP Final, claiming more wickets than anyone else (24) at a shade under 16. McLaren – currently the subject of conjecture concerning his international future – is a prime asset to the club. He bowls with impressive speed and movement, and, like Arafat, also contributed with some vital runs in all competitions. Azhar Mahmood, meanwhile, was revitalised, delivering brilliant death-bowling in limited-overs, trademark huge hitting (especially in Twenty20) and topping the Championship batting and bowling averages alike. Kent members will question the wisdom of limiting him to only six four-day games.
As they embark upon their first season in Division Two, Kent clearly need to do some rebuilding, with reliable top-order batting the most fundamental room for improvement. This, more than anything, was what let them down. Had they not collapsed so feebly in the FP Trophy and last two Championship games and had Justin Kemp connected with the last ball of the Twenty20 Final – that is, if the results of just four games had been changed – Kent would have been triple champions. Funny game, cricket.
Player of the season:
Robbie Joseph is a strong contender, but it is impossible to look beyond Martin van Jaasrsveld. He produced the ‘perfect game’ to transform the Championship game at The Oval, with twin unbeaten centuries and 5/33, while he was the lynchpin of the FP Trophy run, producing four hundreds and three fifties in nine games. Deserved to be the PCA Player of the Year – and deserves some proper support next campaign,
Most disappointing player:
Justin Kemp arrived with a big reputation – and lots to live up to after belatedly being allowed to play this season following his ICL participation. But he was an ignominious failure, lacking the application to thrive in testing Championship conditions and managing to average just 18 even in the Twenty20, though he almost took Kent to an improbable win.
Defeating Essex in the Twenty20 semi-final, seemingly through sheer self-belief. Dreams of a treble were very much alive.
Subsiding feebly to an innings defeat at home in the final game, prompting the club chairman to bemoan a lack of support.
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