Kent captain Sam Billings believes a third-place finish in this season’s Specsavers County Championship first division could act as a springboard to even greater success and silverware for his side.
Following back-to-back wins on the road against Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, Kent go into their final round home game competing for the third-place winners’ cheque with Hampshire – Monday’s visitors to The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence – and Yorkshire, whom they beat by a record 433-run margin on Thursday and who now lie fifth.
Billings, who hit 138 and 122 not out at Emerald Headingley having scored his first red-ball ton of the summer in Kent’s second innings of their 227-run win over Notts in their previous outing, believes that finishing third would prove a huge boost to his burgeoning team.
“It’s very important for us,” said the 28-year-old skipper. “We had a huge disappointment in the Vitality Blast finishing off the way we did.
“Also, with the Championship, a lot of people said we’d be the side who would go down comfortably. We were written off a bit.
Billings added: “Believe it or not, this is my first season of Division One cricket. We all want to keep moving forward as players and as a club.
“We’ve done that in white-ball cricket in the last couple of years, but we’re starting to make progress as well with the red ball too.”
With young seamers Harry Podmore and Matt Milnes to the fore, backed by Darren Stevens, Kent have found a way to take 20 opposition wickets on their way to winning five matches from their 13 starts.
Kent have achieved with the bat too perhaps, with the likes of Zak Crawley, Sean Dickson, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Ollie Robinson, Billings, Heino Kuhn, Joe Denly and Stevens all chipping in. They have amassed 36 batting bonus points, five more than any other county.
With new signings like Jack Leaning from Yorkshire, and others to surely follow, Billings believes the foundations are in place for a Kent challenge on the county championship winners’ pennant in the seasons to come.
“We’re starting to get a really strong squad together, and strength in depth in all positions,” added the wicketkeeper-batsman.
“The next challenge for this group is to push on for silverware. Essex won it immediately after coming up from Division Two didn’t they, So, it’s so exciting times for us.
“Darren Stevens lit up this game [at Headingley], but Harry and Matt both have taken 50 wickets in their first full year of Division One cricket. It’s an exceptional achievement.
“We’re just trying to grow this young and hungry group and we want success at the end of the day. We got close with the Royal London One-Day Cup last year in the final and we’ve been close in the T20 these last few years.
“So that’s the next step. How do we put all this potential into success and win something? There’s no reason why not to my mind.
“There’s Zak with the bat, Ollie and DBD has come back into form. We have a lot to be excited about.”
Kent welcome Hampshire on Monday for their final home game of the season. Each day is scheduled to start at 10:30 with free tickets being offered for Day Three.
By Mark Pennell, ECB Reporters’ Network