Kent coach Walker hoping to take the top flight by storm

PUBLISHED: 14:59 21 March 2019

Kent head coach Matt Walker (pic: Gareth Fuller/PA)

Kent head coach Matt Walker (pic: Gareth Fuller/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

After a winter of due diligence and careful recruitment Kent are hoping to take the County Championship top flight by storm when the first-class cricket season begins next month.

Having spent eight summers in Specsavers County Championship Division 2, Kent secured promotion by finishing second behind champions Warwickshire following an inspired 2018 campaign of 10 red-ball wins – matching Surrey as the county with the most red-ball victories for the season.

Looking ahead to next month’s two opening championship fixtures, both on the road against Somerset and Warwickshire, Kent’s head coach, Matt Walker insisted that his side have nothing to fear.

“It will be a challenge, make no mistake about it, but the message we’re trying to get through to the lads is that they’re all here to compete,” said the former Kent and Essex batsman.

“We’re here to win the competition. We’re not going into it simply to survive and we’re not going into it just to play ‘safe’ cricket, we want to show what we can do, and I feel we have a squad that’s good enough to do that.

“If we can start with a flourish that will settle any nerves and give the lads belief that they can achieve and thrive at this level.

“We never had a blip through the whole of last year and won more games of cricket than any other county. If we lost a game, we always bounced back with a win which means we have a lot of belief in the dressing room and trust in our players.

“The players have a real ambition to flourish in Division 1 and we certainly don’t want to portray it as a big, bad world.

“We’ve earned the right to play in the top division by beating some very good Division 2 side. We should be the team who other club’s look at as an unknown quantity.

“Some sides, like Surrey and Essex, haven’t played against us for a long time in four-day cricket, so I want us to go into it on the front foot and to challenge these teams.

“I believe we have the talent and skills to compete very strongly in this division.”

However, the county will start the summer without their captain Sam Billings, and his right-hand man, Joe Denly, the club’s vice skipper, who will both be plying their trade in the Indian Premier League.

Heino Kuhn, the former South Africa Test batsman, will lead the side in their absence, but arguably, Kent’s biggest loss will be the absence of Matt Henry.

The slippery Kiwi paceman took 75 first-class wickets at an average of 15.48 during two Kentish stints last summer but is unable to return to the Garden of England this season.

Matt Renshaw, the 23-year-old Yorkshire-born Australia batsman who played for Somerset at the start of last season, will fill Henry’s berth as Kent’s overseas player for the opening block of four-day fixtures, leaving winter recruits Matt Milnes, who joined on a three-year deal from Nottinghamshire, and 26-year-old Netherlands’ left-arm paceman, Fred Klassen, to fight for the right to fill Henry’s big bowling boots in the county’s attack.

“Sadly, Matt’s schedule just doesn’t fit with ours this year,” Walker added.

“What with his commitments to New Zealand and his likely involvement in their World Cup squad we’re highly unlikely to see him here this summer, but we’d love to see him back at some stage for sure.

“He fully understands our thinking and the decision to bring in a batsman for the start of the season and, as is always the case, one player’s absence, gives opportunities for the likes of Freddie, Matt Milnes, Grant Stewart and Harry Podmore to hold their hands up and shine.”

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