2011 – a disastrous season for Kent cricket. Under performance across the board lead to humiliation in the County Championship, an early and abrupt end to their CB40 campaign and a brief ray of sunshine in the flT20 came to a humiliating end at Grace Road when they failed to defend 200+.
Change was not needed. An entire overhaul was. Out with the old, in with… well the even older.
Paul Farbrace fell on his sword. Joe Denly and Martin van Jaarseveld went in search of glory elsewhere, freeing up Jamie Clifford’s chequebook to make shrewd signing after shrewd signing.
In the Graham Ford era, many players were openly critical that he craved immediate success without developing young talent. Even with the innovative academy set to churn out an exciting crop of England age group stars, Ford spent big on McLaren, Kemp, and a plethora on foreign talent for t20 success.
In the short term – it worked.
But so full circle have Kent come that not only are they ploughing home grown talent into first class cricket at an impressive velocity, they have started invested little on lots – not lots of little.
Not in superstars like Amla at Lancashire, Philander and Somerset or Patel at Warwickshire, but rather in established names with a point to prove.
And that is the simple nature of it.
Denly had got his England caps, van Jaarsveld was past his best, and Khan and Joseph couldn’t justify their huge pay packets by giving the physio Nimmo chronic arthritis in his wrists.
Proving a point is the essence of the Kent team.
Firstly coach Jimmy Adams – a practical, no-nonsense practitioner. Since arriving in February, he has left no stone unturned, from the office staff to the kitchen – Adams has been thorough in initially getting to grips with Kent’s issues and slowly but surely attacking them in his laid back, uncompromising style. He arrived with little more than some junior cricket in Jamaica on his CV.
Stepping up to the big league alongside established coaches like Moores and Moxon is a challenge that he has gleefully accepted, ready to show the cricketing world that he is the next big thing in coaching.
Then onto the players. With an exodus during the winter, and burgeoning holes to fill, Kent moved early. They signed Ben Harmison (Durham), Michael Powell (Glamorgan) and Charlie Shreck (Nottingham) swiftly. Perhaps the most important and arguably most intelligent signing was Mark Davies, who linked up with former England Under 19 teammate Rob Key and Durham aide Harmison.
All these players were past it. They were has-beens, cast onto the augmenting pile of ex cricketers. The opportunity for one last stab at the big time was a no-brainer.
In proving a point not only to themselves, but the rest of the county circuit and a few journalists who had sharpened their pencils ready for their obituary column, these four have all shown application and grit, and brought a relaxed, harmonious environment that had been lacking from the dressing room in recent years.
With players all fighting to play for the team and for important intrinsic motives, they have dragged Kent and themselves out of the cricketing doldrums.
Early season centuries from Harmison and Powell have been matched by the consistency and wickets of Shreck and Harmison.
Overseas signing, Brendan Nash, a Jamaican Australian who only 18 months ago was the vice captain of the West Indies, is another case in point. Discarded unceremoniously by the WIndies, he plundered runs for fun for Jamaica but was unable to overcome the politics that riles every level and every nation in international sport.
Nash had a point to prove to the selectors of the West Indies that he still had the mettle and the ability to adapt to all kinds of conditions. His cover drive is a sight to behold and he has usurped Darren Stevens at backward point too as an energetic fielder and a dogged middle order batsman – the perfect solution after Kent’s continued top order failings in 2011. He has a refreshing, old school approach to the game and he has given Kent their first full-time overseas player in just under a decade. Could that be the vital ingredient Kent have been lacking all these years?
But what of Kent’s old guard?
Well Key, Jones, Stevens and all had pretty lacklustre 2011s. Tredwell is needing wickets to force the England selectors hands and the young generation like Northeast, Coles and Ball have the yappy dog enthusiasm to keep the new rocking chair generation on their toes and show that their abilities bely their birth certificate.
It is a formula that Adams has neatly knitted together to astonishing effect, Kent losing just once before the t20 cup (to the Unicorns) and remaining unbeaten midway through the County Championship season. A remarkable turnaround.
Whilst many factors, including the weather, may have had their say on Kent’s revival this season, having 11 individuals on the field all out to prove their dwindling number of critics wrong and prove to themselves that they still have what it takes to perform at the highest level has been the overriding factor.
Jimmy Adams has shown what ‘it’ is – and Kent, so far, haven’t looked back.
Saturday, 21st July 2012