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Club Update: Spring 2024 (Part 1)

Thursday 22nd February 2024

Kent Cricket

As tickets went on sale this week for all of our matches this Summer, I thought this would be a good opportunity to update you on everything that we have been working over the Winter period as we prepare for the new cricket season.

So much has been happening that it’s proved difficult to squeeze everything into one update, so this is the first of two news updates that will bring Members and supporters up-to-speed with all the work that’s going on at Kent Cricket.

In Part 1, I’ll largely focus on the progress. I’ll share another update with you next week which will bring you up-to-date with some of the more long-term projects and debates in the game that will impact Kent Cricket long into the future.

Director of Cricket

Our Director of Cricket, Simon Cook, has now been in post for four months and I’m delighted with the progress that he’s made in this short time.

Simon is a real driving force for positive change, building on the work done by his predecessor Paul Downton. There’s a huge amount of hard and smart work happening, with strategic thinking going on on and off the field to enable us to compete at the highest level; not an easy task given the widening financial gulf between the counties based at grounds hosting The Hundred and international matches, and counties such as Kent. We rely purely on domestic fixtures for our income.

  • Coaching Staff:

One of ‘Cookie”s priorities was to recruit the coaching team following his promotion to Director of Cricket and Alex Gidman’s departure to work with England Women. We’re excited to see Robbie Joseph return to the Club as Men’s Bowling Coach, and Toby Radford joins us with a big pedigree in nurturing young talent from his time with Middlesex, the ECB & West Indies.

Robbie and Toby are already here working with the players who aren’t currently overseas, and will bring additional skills and support to add to the work that Men’s Head Coach Matt Walker is doing with the squad.

  • Women’s Cricket:

With the continuing growth of Women’s cricket, the refreshed role of Director of Cricket at Kent now includes oversight for our elite Women’s & Girls Cricket in Kent.

Our amateur Kent Women side feeds into the professional South East Stars – our Regional Women’s team run in partnership with Surrey. Under the leadership of Dave Smith, we’ve made significant progress as we seek to build on our rich heritage in women’s cricket, and provide women and girls across Kent with the opportunity to progress to a professional career and play at the highest level.

At the end of January, ECB announced that the eight Women’s Regional teams will cease to exist at the end of the 2024 season, and the eight professional teams will move to be county-owned and county-led. I’ll provide more reflections on this change and our response to this decision in Part 2 of my update.

Club Captaincy

We now have our new Club Captaincy structure in place. I’m sure you shared my delight with the announcement that Daniel Bell-Drummond will be leading us forward as Club Captain.

Daniel has enjoyed a terrific career with Kent so far and is highly respected both here in his home county and across the wider game. He’s a shining example of the capabilities of our Talent Pathway in producing excellent cricketers and his progression is an inspiration for youngsters across Kent and our four London Boroughs.

I’d also like to thank Sam Billings – another product of the Talent Pathway here in Kent – for his hard work as Club Captain for the last five years. It’s great to have Sam remaining as our T20 Captain, receiving full backing from Daniel, with his vast experience of playing for and captaining T20 sides around the world to great success.

To complete our captaincy structure, Jack Leaning will be a fantastic Vice Captain for ‘Deebs’ and Sam, as well as provide great leadership for us in the Metro Bank One Day Cup this year. Since joining us in 2020, Jack has been an influential leader both on and off the field, and these leadership qualities will be vital to his success as Vice Captain.

I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing all three the greatest of success in their new roles and in the coming season.

Kent Cricketers around the world

Over the Winter, it’s been pleasing to see many our players seeking to develop their games in various places and competitions around the world:

  • Sam Billings was involved in Brisbane Heat’s victorious Big Bash League T20 campaign, before captaining the Dubai Capitals in the International T20 League in the UAE to the Final of the tournament
    • Joe Denly was also involved in the ILT20 with Sharjah Warriors
  • Zak Crawley opened the batting for England in their Test Series in India, averaging 37.66 and hitting two 70+ scores
  • Ben Compton has had a very successful overseas stint with KwaZulu-Natal Inland in Cricket South Africa’s 4-Day Series. His 472 runs in just six matches so far includes 170 against North West, and he’s averaging 47.20 with the bat
  • Jaydn Denly represented England at the Under-19s World Cup in South Africa this Winter, with five wickets & 52 runs in four matches
  • Grant Stewart has represented Italy in their provisional 2027 Cricket World Cup Qualifiers
  • A number of our Men’s players have also been playing grade & club cricket across the Southern Hemisphere

Overseas Signings

Last season showed that overseas player recruitment is an increasingly difficult and time-consuming process for Directors of Cricket. Here at Kent, several deals were agreed for overseas bowlers that had to then be cancelled due to circumstances outside of our control.

Kent’s among a number of counties impacted by the changing landscape of cricket globally; a packed schedule of white-ball tournaments around the world means players’ workloads have to be managed carefully. These high profile white-ball tournaments are financially rewarding for players – understandably this is making it harder for all counties to secure overseas players for an extended period of time.

It’s a testament to the culture that Matt Walker & co. have created here that a fast bowler of Wes Agar’s calibre actively sought to come back to Kent for another year after impressing in his first English Summer.

Wes is an exciting bowler who made a big difference last season and we’re very pleased to welcome him back to Canterbury until the end of July. He’s also made a big impact for South Australia in the Sheffield Shield this Winter.

Work continues to go on in this area; Simon Cook is continuing to work on bolstering the Men’s squad and talks are in an advanced stage to secure a second overseas recruit for the first part of the season.

International touring teams

We were extremely pleased to announce that we’ll be welcoming Zimbabwe A The County Ground, Beckenham this July to face our Second XI. After an enforced period of time out of the international game, we’re delighted that Beckenham has been chosen as one of the host venues for the return of a touring international Zimbabwean team.

This is just the start of the good news around international visitors to Beckenham. We’ll be announcing more exciting news about a second high-profile international fixture at The County Ground, Beckenham very shortly.

As our flagship ground in South East London, Beckenham is highly regarded by the ECB and is extremely popular with touring overseas teams. Cricket Australia and the BCCI both held Training Camps there before last Summer’s World Test Championship Final at the Kia Oval and were glowing in their feedback. Jackie Hayward is our Venue Operations Manager, and Josh Marden leads the Groundscare team. They continue to do a great job in ensuring that international teams are welcomed and have access to the best facilities.

On a day-to-day basis, Beckenham continues to operate as the High Performance Centre and host venue for South East Stars, our Regional Women’s team operated in partnership with Surrey and Kent. It also hosts Kent Women and Jackie, Josh and the team are also preparing to host two Metro Bank One Day Cup matches in August.

I’ll share some more reflections on how we might secure a financially sustainable future for Beckenham and how it can continue to play an important role as our bridgehead into South East London in Part 2.

The Nevill Ground, Tunbridge Wells

We know how much Tunbridge Wells Festival means to Kent Members and fans in the west of the county. This year, as has happened every year since the pandemic forced us to cancel the Festival in 2020, I received a number of requests for us to make a return to the Nevill and it’s worth me sharing some of the reasons that I have shared with those who have spoken or written to me personally.

Whilst a return to the Nevill in 2024 for Men’s First XI is not scheduled, we want to support the excellent work that is going on locally which ensures cricket continues to be a thriving sport. We’ll continue to take significant Men’s Second XI and Kent Women’s fixtures to Tunbridge Wells this Summer and the door to an eventual return Men’s First XI remains open.

Standards relating to the players’ and umpires facilities continue to rise and the quality of pitches remains key. Whilst it’s increasingly difficult to see the return of First XI red-ball cricket to the Nevill, given the ever-rising requirements for first class venues, first-team white-ball cricket remains a possibility.

So whilst the challenges are not insurmountable, they’re considerable and we’ll need a long term plan to ensure that the return of Men’s First XI to Tunbridge Wells is financially sustainable. We also need to ensure that we can re-establish the Tunbridge Wells Festival as a highlight of the cricket and community calendar.

We have a good relationship with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Tunbridge Wells Cricket Club, and we’re in regular contact with their leadership – together, we’ll continue to explore our options.

AGM & Board Composition

Members will shortly be receiving their formal invitation to our annual AGM (2024) for the Year ended 31 October 2023. This will take place at The Spitfire Ground on Tuesday 26 March. The meeting starts at 7pm.

Feedback we got from last year’s Members’ Meal which took place before the AGM was very positive, and once again this year, Members will be invited to join our Chair, Simon Philip and the Directors from 6pm in the Cornwallis Suite for a light meal before we head upstairs to the Harris Suite.

The Independent Commission for Equality in Sport (ICEC) placed a spotlight on the Constitutions and Boards of Counties, and our Nominations Committee has been working hard to ensure that our diversity targets and succession plans for our Non-Executive Directors on the Board are in place. We’ve also been working hard with our legal advisors to ensure that our Club Rules remain up-to-date and in line with latest developments in sports governance and technology. The Board Recommendations to Members for 2024 will be included in Members’ AGM packs which will be landing later this month.

The new Board structure – which replaced the General Committee – was established in August 2022 as one part of several top-level changes to ensure that Kent Cricket is truly representative of the County and our four metropolitan London Boroughs. The Board has met regularly in Canterbury and Beckenham and Directors have played a significant part in guiding the Club through the last 18 months, as well as providing expert support to Club Executives in various areas of the business.

The Board held a Strategic Away Day in December 2023 as part of a process to refine our Ten-Year Strategy for the Club going forward. This is a vital piece of work to ensure that we identify a route to long term financial sustainability in the long term and one that might secure us a seat at the ‘top table of cricket’ for generations to come. There is much work and consultation ahead of us, and we look forward to sharing details of this Strategy in due course.

Finally, as I draw Part 1 of my Spring update to a close, thank you to everyone that has joined the Kent Cricket Family for 2024 by becoming a Kent Member – this is a vital stream of revenue for us and we look forward to seeing you all at Kent Cricket Venues this year.

It’s not too late to become a Kent Member, with more information on Membership available here.

I’ll be back in touch with you next week to outline more about our work over the Winter as we prepare for the new season ahead.

I’ll also share some more reflections on the long-term future for the game of cricket in England and Wales, and the strategic opportunities and challenges facing the Club – as we work to secure the long-term success and financial sustainability of Men’s and Women’s cricket in Kent, from grass roots to the professional game.

Simon Storey
Kent Cricket CEO

Read Part 2 here

Read Part 3 here