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Eddie Allcorn looks ahead to an exciting summer

Saturday 18th April 2015

The start of a fresh, crisp, unsullied brand spanking new cricket season is always guaranteed to put a spring in the step of even the most jaded county cricket fan.

It is the time of year when you dream of a perfect summer, glorious weather, cricket weeks, last ball finishes, NatWest T20 Blast heroics, elegant batting, ferocious fast bowling, magical spin bowling, spectacular catches and dogged defending – all in English domestic cricket in 2015.

Whether Kent will be a leading light in the forthcoming season is unclear but the mood amongst the The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence faithful is a little more optimistic than it has been for a few years after the modest but welcome improvements in results and performances over the last two seasons.

The age-old problem of taking twenty wickets in the Championship still remains a concern though, particularly given the not entirely surprising news that Kent won’t be engaging an overseas star this summer after the glitch with the Old Dover Road redevelopment.

Bollinger’s contribution last season wasn’t quite as effective as many fans had hoped so perhaps the return of prodigal son Matt Coles from Hampshire will be able to fill the void. Coles took more Championship wickets (41) than Doug last season (27) and obviously his batting and fielding are far superior to the popular Aussie’s.

He might find the wickets at Canterbury less helpful than the Rose Bowl but if he can make the most of his undoubted talent then the attack should be a bit more dangerous.

The continued progress of Adam Riley will be keenly followed by Kent and England fans alike, he is already on the Lions radar and if he starts taking significant numbers of wickets the clamour for him to be picked to fill the Swann shaped hole in the England Test team will grow. The current incumbent in the West Indies is Tredwell.

In the short term, Tredders is still likely to miss chunks of the domestic season bowling his spin for the England one day team. Whether both will fit into the same Kent side might depend on the wickets and the weather, but at least Kent are currently blessed with no little talent in that department.

The rest of the attack has potential to be effective, but has suffered in recent times once the new ball has got older and softer and the wickets slower and lower.

It is unrealistic and unfair to expect veteran Stevens to shoulder such a huge workload with the red ball again, so Claydon will have to repeat last season’s 50 wickets minimum and the likes of Griffiths and perhaps Thomas will have to chip in.

The wicket keeping department sees another young talent on the cusp of really making a name for himself. Billings had a superb 2014, a repeat of that would delight everyone although talk of him then making the England squad will gain inevitable momentum.

Certainly his fearless and belligerent batting in all forms, but particularly in one-day cricket had Kent fans bursting with pride and optimism last season.

As for the batting, well the return home of Joe Denly from Middlesex means a second chance for him to recapture his mojo, his former glories, and for Kent to field an opening three of the mercurial Key, the promising Bell-Drummond and Denly.

The hope will then be that Northeast fulfils his potential and form from the second half of last season, that Cowdrey continues to mature and that Stevens is able to recreate some of his remarkable batting achievements from the last few years.

Others will have to chip in too, the likes of Nash, Harmison and Haggett will all have to play a part because Kent will have make the most of all their talents if they are to achieve their aims for the season.

Most Members will have half an eye on getting promoted back to Division One in the Championship and will point to the fact than unfancied unfashionable sides have done just that in recent seasons (Derbyshire, Northamptonshire, Worcestershire). Realistically though Surrey, Lancashire and Essex will be the fancied teams.

The 50 over competition is perhaps the best chance of real glory though, the current squad is certainly suited to the longer one day game given their bowling attack (pretty good at strangling and limiting the opposition) and a fairly handy batting line-up.

We made the semi-final last year and obviously every Kent fan would love to see Kent get to Lord’s for another final but only with the proviso that they finally end the Lord’s hoodoo.

The NatWest T20 Blast is harder to predict, perhaps some of the batting needs to be a bit braver and more explosive, but also last season the bowling did get smashed about a bit on occasion.

Individually, Kent have players that can win a NatWest T20 Blast game with one amazing knock or bowling spell, but getting some consistency eluded then last season in that most unforgiving of formats.

Perhaps the hardest task of all though will be attracting more people to care about and attend county cricket. With domestic cricket behind the pay wall since 1999 for a whole new generation it has been a case of out of sight, out of mind, even the regional TV news programmes rarely mention Kent, Essex or Sussex.

Obviously the internet has been a boon for those already won over to the delights of watching Kent but snippets online, updated scores and live radio commentary doesn’t make up for the lack of mainstream coverage.

I think they are missing out, but most general sports fans that can be persuaded to give cricket a go are only ever really interested, informed and shown the England team.

After the humiliating World Cup fiasco and with a daunting Ashes campaign on the horizon if the powers that be aren’t careful the perception of English cricket will slip back towards the ebb of the late 1980s.

All the potential benefits from the achievements of the Test team from 2005 onwards risk being frittered away and having put all their eggs in the “Team England” basket the administrators might find themselves struggling to sell television rights, tickets and sponsorship deals if the “product” is perceived as fundamentally substandard.

Certainly things do need shaking up but the early vibes coming from new ECB Chairman Colin Graves do not fill me with confidence.

Franchises would be the final straw for most county Members, Kent would not be one of the chosen few and if he can’t grasp why then he should perhaps come and chat to the Nackington Road Grumblers some time soon.

He might change his tune if it was suggested to him that his beloved Yorkshire merge with Lancashire, call themselves Manchester and play at Old Trafford for the mooted EPL, which if you went simply on NatWest T20 Blast results over the last decade would be entirely logical!

Back to the here and now and Kent begin their serious campaign after a gentle drawn warm-up against Loughborough University with a Championship trip to eternal rivals Essex on Sunday at Chelmsford.

A fixture to get the juices flowing even in April, although the feeling will no doubt be mutual from the chaps from the wrong side of the Dartford crossing.

With an Ashes summer and no Football World Cup or Olympics to compete with, cricket needs to grab the attention of the general public and not let go until September both at national level and domestically.

The 2015 World Cup showed how the 50-over game is being transformed by the T20 game, 400 is the new 300! Whether such innovation can be reflected in the county game is unclear, but it will as ever be great fun finding out… Come On Kent!