Worrying Winter ahead for Kent Cricket

Wednesday 28th September compounded what has been a miserable year so far for Kent County Cricket Club. The announcement that not only would coach Paul Farbrace be leaving, but so too senior batsmen Joe Denly and Martin van Jaarsveld. Difficulties on the pitch have now been compounded by increasing turmoil off it.

Let’s deal with each situation one at a time.

Firstly, Paul Farbrace’s departure comes as no surprise. Following 2 years of plummeting fortunes, it would be absurd not to make changes. Kent simply couldn’t accept relegation from the LVCC Division One, finishing second from bottom in Division Two a year later, failing to reach a one-day final and underperforming and perhaps underdeveloping players. Farbrace I feel is the fall guy, rather than the root of the issues.

Farbrace is genuinely one of the gentlemen of modern cricket. He always has time to talk and speaks openly and honestly. He talks a very good game but perhaps his failing came in converting this into a response on the pitch. Only in the latter half of the season did Kent spark into life, but even then they coughed, spluttered and ran out of steam. I sincerely wish him all the best for the future.

As to his replacement, I find it difficult to believe that Kent wouldn’t have a replacement in mind before their conversations last Friday. I think Simon Willis, the current High Performance Director is one of the front runners to take over. Farbrace intriguingly wished him all the best in the future.

Now onto the players.

I first heard of unrest with van Jaarsveld in early August. His form has been well below his very high standards. Martin is his own worst critic and he didn’t need to look at the scorecard, the media or his teammates to know he had a bad year. Just one century all season hurt him.

My favourite story of the season is the tale of van Jaarsveld’s 124 against Worcestershire, where he was stung by a wasp (he’s allergic) and felt dizzy and queasy at the crease before plundering runs at New Road. A secret formula perhaps.

Was it just a blip or was it the beginning of the demise of a stalwart of the modern game? Van Jaarsveld has too much class in my opinion to be the former. Handing over the vice-captaincy to Geraint Jones at the end of the season signalled his determination to overcome his woes in the middle. He couldn’t and so he feels a move to Leicestershire will refresh him.

I believe that, personally, the decision for van Jaarsveld was right for him.

Denly’s move has been on the cards for some time. Essex, Middlesex and Kent were all chasing his signature and eventually the lure of Division One cricket, playing at Lord’s and the opportunity to remind the England selectors of his talents proved too great.

Denly top scored for Kent in the LVCC this season, but at the penultimate game in Derby, in which he scored a career best 199, over 50% of his runs had come in just two games. This indicates that he has underperformed in the majority of matches. His upturn in fortunes at the end of the season merely helped his future bank balance and paper over the cracks of a disappointing year.

It was interesting that Denly said he was ‘disappointed’ to leave Kent, perhaps insinuating that he wanted to stay but circumstances unbeknown to us prevented him from doing so. I would be surprised if he plays for England again though.

So where does this leave Kent now.

Well, the purse strings are tight at the St. Lawrence Ground. Yes, every county is suffering financial hardship, and I don’t think Kent have the debt that the likes of Yorkshire and Lancashire do. However, I think that the amount Kent have invested in youth and their academy, they will almost be forced by ethos to blood more youngsters.

With Denly and van Jaarsveld undoubtedly two of the higher earners at the club, Kent will have some pennies to spend. And here comes the dilemma.

Who would want to join Kent right now?

Their coach has left. So too have two of their longest serving and best players. They are a team on the decline with youngsters that whilst capable, determined and perseverant, are not going to set the world alight. There is continuing unrest amongst the members, with the Kent Reform Group gathering support.

Kent don’t have the ability to attract anybody to the club in the same class as Denly and van Jaarsveld. Daniel Bell-Drummond I am certain will be a straight swap for Denly, though I believe Sam Northeast is a better opener than number 3. Van Jaarsveld’s replacement isn’t so clear. Mal Loye and Mike Powell have recently been released by county sides. This is the only place I can see Kent getting guaranteed runs – other county’s cast-offs. No established county batsman will jump ship to join the nervous wreck of Kent on the choppiest of seas.

Kent have tried to find the next big batsman. Goodman, Piesley, Blake – they’ve all come and failed to conquer. Maybe Sam Billings will get a chance. If any youngster is thrown in, it will be a season or two before they are full equipped to tackle the demands of a full county season.

General consensus is that the Graham Ford era, that yielded the t20 success, dealt only in the short term, and it is only now that Kent are suffering. Khan, Kemp, Saggers, and McLaren have all been replaced with academy products who just aren’t in the same mould. THAT is the main cause of Kent’s recent downfall.

A radical overhaul is needed both on and off the field this winter for Kent to arrest their alarming slide. Regardless, Kent fans will need to patient for success. 2012 will not be Kent’s year.

I am a freelance broadcast journalist for BBC Radio Kent. Please note that all views in this article are my own and are in no way representative of my employers and/or their associative partners.