Kent begin their County Championship campaign tomorrow with a trip through the Dartford Tunnel to face Essex. Due to the awful financial issues at the Club there is to be no overseas player for the Members to marvel at this season. If you're an optimistic Kent fan then you have to look at this as a major opportunity for some homegrown talent to stake their claim. However, the lack of a marquee player will almost certainly see fewer coming through the gates - it's a difficult balancing act for the powers that be at Canterbury.
Last year Kent's batting was found to be sub-standard in Division One. With the (increasingly) discernible difference in the quality of the bowling attacks in Division Two this should be less of a problem. It seems inconceivable, also, that Robert Key and Joe Denly could struggle so badly for a second year in a row. Denly, it seems, is playing for his future - if that doesn't focus the mind properly then nothing will. Geraint Jones will, hopefully, re-find the consistency that marked out his exceptional season in 2009, while Martin Van Jaarsveld will once again find himself the lynchpin of the batting order - I am not alone among Kent fans who believe Van Jaarsveld should be Captain of Kent. Darren Stevens might yet get a deserved call-up to England's one-day team if he continues the quality he produced last year.
The major problem for Kent is in the bowling department. If you can't take twenty wickets, you can't win a game of first-class cricket. When Ntini was with the side last season he showed what can happen if you have just one top-class bowler in your side. Amjad Khan has taken his treatment table and departed for pastures new, but when he was fit Amjad was a massive performer for Kent. There is a need for Robbie Joseph to get himself fit, and to fulfill some of the promise we've seen over the last few years. Simon Cook will probably be relied upon far more than would be ideal, while James Tredwell will still have a point to prove to certain elements of the England Management. The loan signing, today, of Charlie Shreck from Notts is a massive boost to the attack. Shreck has a really fine track record in the Championship, with the ability to move the ball in a similar vein to Martin Saggers. Unfortunately Shreck's last few years have been punctuated by injury problems, so he should fit in nicely with Kent's pace-bowling department. Azhar Mahmood will continue to give it his all but the pace drops away with each passing year - if he plays in more than half of the matches it will be a bonus.
I believe success will elude Kent this season. Promotion would be a pleasant surprise as I really don't think the bowlers are up to it. I have plenty of faith in the batting against Second Division bowlers, so runs should not really be an issue. Kent's best chance of success might actually come in the CB40, so it will be interesting to see how the team is selected for that. In recent years we have seen inexperienced youngsters given chances in that competition, but given the small size of the squad that might not be such an option - every player will be needed on a regular basis, across the formats. It's going to be a diffiult, challenging, but interesting Summer in Kent. Let's hope for some good Summer weather, and good Kent cricket.
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