Sam Northeast and Daniel Bell-Drummond will approach the season in buoyant mood after significant centuries in foreign fields over the last couple of weeks.
Bell-Drummond was as relieved as he was delighted to bounce back from a lean personal run on Kent’s FGS Plant trip to the West Indies by scoring exactly 100 for the England Lions in a one-day game against Sri Lanka A in Colombo.
He followed that up with an unbeaten 92 in the first match of the North-South Series in Dubai last Friday – and after Bell-Drummond fell for a duck to Tim Bresnan in the first over of the second game on Sunday, Northeast ensured that the Spitfires influence remained strong by making 118 not out.
It was an especially satisfying innings for the Kent captain as he has had a long wait for recognition by the England selectors since his days in the national Under-19s team.
The North-South Series has been set up by Director of England Cricket Andrew Strauss to give players like Northeast the chance to make their point to the management – meaning his innings was watched by head coach Trevor Bayliss, selectors James Whitaker and Mick Newell, and also Paul Farbrace, the England assistant coach who has taken charge of the South team, and who goes back a long way with Northeast as a former Kent coach himself.
Northeast was “gutted” to be ruled out of the third and last match of the series after suffering a hamstring twinge during his century. But he hopes to have another chance to impress, against the red ball and also with his leadership skills, when he captains the MCC against Middlesex in the Champion County match which starts in Abu Dhabi next Sunday.
Even as he reflected on his century for the South under the Dubai International Cricket Stadium floodlights on Sunday night, Northeast stressed that Kent remained at the centre of his thoughts.
“Firstly it’s nice to be out here, it’s an honour to come and play in this,” he said. “But it’s also fantastic preparation for the season coming up. I made sure I wasn’t going to do anything different from what I’ve been doing at Kent - but it’s still really nice to score some runs in front of the selectors.”
There have been some significant changes behind the scenes at the Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence since a 2016 season that saw a second-placed finish in Division Two of the Specsavers County Championship – most obviously with Matt Walker’s appointment as head coach following the return of Jimmy Adams to the West Indies.
Walker’s unflappable demeanour has been tested by a couple of unforeseen issues, but he appears to be coping admirably.
Kent’s ambition has been shown by the reports of approaches first to Allan Donald, and then to Jason Gillespie, to work alongside Walker. Both have run into visa issues, but Gillespie remains the favourite to act as locum for Donald.
On a more positive front, Walker will be relieved that strike bowler Matt Coles is recovering well from a procedure to remove a varicose vein from his troublesome big toe and has joined the remainder of his squad back in training.
The head coach is also pleased to have added 20-year-old Joe Weatherley to the Kent squad. The rookie top-order batsman and off-spinner has joined on long-term loan from Hampshire with the intention of adding to his nine first XI appearances for the south coast county, after a prolific winter in grade cricket in Australia.
Commenting on Weatherley’s capture, Walker said; “He’s a very fine young batter. I’d not seen that much of him personally before he came to us, but, from what I’ve seen he’s a very well organised young cricketer who is highly regarded by Hampshire. He’s very ambitious, has a good cricket brain and is a good lad, who has fitted in brilliantly since he’s been with us.
“Joe has captained England Under-19s, so has an experienced head on young shoulders in that regard. He also adds to our batting unit and that’s the message I wanted to get across to Joe, he’s part of our squad and is challenging for a first team place. He gives us depth and creates competition for places, which is exactly what we wanted.
“Hampshire had signed a couple of new batters, James Vince appears to be out of the England set-up right now and Michael Carberry is healthy again and back in training, which is great news for ‘Carbs’, but all of that meant Joe’s chances of forcing his way in became less and less,” Walker explained.
“Understandably, they were keen to get him out on loan and were also keen for him to come to us which is flattering for our players and the coaching set-up we have here. How long Joe’s with us we’ll have to wait and see, but it’s good to have him here pushing for a place.”
Having already enjoyed a month in the Caribbean competing in the West Indies Regional Super50 tournament, Kent’s players will start their extended pre-season preparations in earnest with a three-day fixture in Canterbury against Leeds Bradford MCCU starting on Tuesday, March 28. They then welcome neighbours Surrey for a two-day friendly starting on Sunday, April 2. Parking and admission is free for the matches, which both start at 11am.