In the Winter of 2016/17, Kent were invited to play in the Regional Super50, the premier one-day competition of the West Indies.
Wearing a maroon red kit with a silver “V”, reminiscent by design if not colour of Kent’s first coloured playing kit in 1993, Kent took a squad to the Caribbean to prepare for the 2017 white-ball season.
However, the 2017 season was one to forget for the Kent Spitfires in terms of results. They finished bottom of the One-Day Cup South Group, only winning one of eight matches. Alex Blake smashed a century from just 46 balls and Darren Stevens set a new Club Record score of 147 in 81 deliveries in the two stand-out performances.
The NatWest T20 Blast was marginally better for Kent: despite finishing in sixth place in the group stages, they won six matches and only failed to qualify by two points from the group.
Kent had announced the signing New Zealand paceman Adam Milne for the Blast that year, who came to the county with a particularly strong T20 pedigree.
He began to introduce himself to the Spitfires faithful with his raw pace and skills with the white-ball, and soon became the spearhead of Kent’s T20 bowling attack.
Milne was at his destructive best at Taunton, when he set a new Club T20 bowling record against Somerset, taking 5/11 in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
Joe Denly scored two centuries in the competition and started to seriously work on his leg-spin, taking two wickets at 21.50 in 30 balls, on top of his average of 43.61 when batting. The right-hander and Daniel Bell-Drummond’s opening stand of 207 runs versus the Essex Eagles set a new Club record for any partnership in T20 cricket.
Denly’s score of 127 in that match at Chelmsford also set a new Club record for an individual T20 total.
One of the most thrilling Spitfires Blast matches in 2017 was at Hove, where a last-ball run-out secured an unlikely tie in a rain-affected South Coast clash with the Sussex Sharks.
If 2017 wasn’t a vintage year, 2018 more than made up for the difficulties of the season previously. Much like in 2017, Kent had ‘wintered’ in the Caribbean playing in the Regional Super50, and this preparation now paid dividends going into the white-ball season. Sam Billings was appointed captain in all-formats following the departure of Sam Northeast to Hampshire.
Kent returned to a Lord’s Final for the first time in ten years in the Royal London One-Day Cup. They had secured the signature of New Zealand international Matt Henry in the off-season, and his destructive start to the One-Day Cup and County Championship led Kent to awarding him the Club’s 215th County Cap in the first two months of his arrival.
It was the wickets of Henry (16), Darren Stevens (16), Calum Haggett (14) and the now established leg-spin of Joe Denly (14) that made in-roads in the Kent Spitfires’ bowling attack, whilst Denly also eclipsed Steven’s individual batting record set in the previous season, scoring exactly 150* when securing the winning runs against Glamorgan in Canterbury. If Denly’s 492 runs in 11 matches at 70.28 was impressive, Heino Kuhn, Kent’s new signing, took things to the next level.
Kuhn finished the 2018 One-Day Cup with four centuries, including one in the semi-final against Worcestershire, and finished head and shoulders above every other batsman in the competition with 696 runs at 87.00. He too was awarded a County Cap, number 216, after his efforts in the tournament.
In the knockout stages, Kent made light work of Nottinghamshire in the quarter-finals, before a memorable boundary with three balls of the match left from Harry Podmore in the semi-final at New Road caused pandemonium in the Kent dressing room and amongst their loyal travelling supporters.
The Final on 30th June was under clear blue skies and scorching temperatures. Thousand of Kent fans flocked to Lord’s, even those that had not seen Kent live for many years. It felt like a celebration of Kent Cricket regardless of the result – they vastly outnumbered their Hampshire counterparts.
Although they didn’t win on the day, despite 4/57 from Denly and 86 from Daniel Bell-Drummond, many people saw this as an “awakening” once more from the traditional ‘sleeping giant’ of Kent Cricket.
In the newly-named Vitality Blast T20 competition, Kent earned another showdown with Lancashire at Canterbury in the quarter-finals.
Earlier in the tournament at the Kia Oval, Joe Denly became the first cricketer to score a Century and take a hat-trick in the same T20 match, against Kent’s oldest rivals Surrey. In that tournament, he averaged 37.18 with the willow and now combined this with being Kent’s best bowler in T20 cricket that season: 20 wickets at just 16.75.
Kent also recorded a new joint-record total in T20 matches of 231/5 against Somerset, eqaulling the 231/7 they had made versus Surrey in 2015.
In that quarter-final, Joe Denly dismissed the dangerous Jos Buttler for a first-ball duck, but the Spitfires fell short yet again against the red rose county in a quarter-final. Joe Denly was named as the PCA’s Vitality Blast MVP after his stunning performances in the tournament. At the PCA Awards that October, Denly also scooped up the Best Player award from the Royal London One-Day Cup, and was also selected by his peers as the PCA Players’ Player of the Year.
To keep their forward momentum going in 2019, Kent quickly secured the services of Adam Milne for a third consecutive year in T20, as well as Matt Renshaw for the start of the season and the One-Day Cup. Renshaw scored a hundred at Beckenham against Sussex, but many felt that the ‘hangover’ over reaching the final the year before didn’t help the Spitfires and they failed to make it past the group stages.
The Club was determined to make things right in the Vitality Blast. Quick moves were made to secure the signing of statistically the best All-Rounder in the format, Afghanistan’s Mohammad Nabi, for a large proportion of the tournament. Hardus Viljoen, who had played red ball cricket for Kent in 2016, was also snapped up to operate alongside Milne.
The Spitfires won the first six matches on the bounce, including an emphatic win over Somerset in the first match, Imran Qayyum taking his first career T20 five-fer, and a big win at Lord’s against Middlesex which included a destructive partnership of 114 between Heino Kuhn (54*) and Alex Blake (66*). Blake was also Kent’s hero against at Hampshire, putting in a performance reminiscent of his destructive innings at the same venue in 2015 to smash Kent to another huge victory in the final over with consecutive sixes.
Then came Mohammad Nabi’s innings at the Oval. It was a damp July evening, and rain had scuppered all chances of a full match. Many people had started to filter out from the venue in South London.
The rain stopped and a seven-over-a-side match was announced. Surrey made 54/4, which meant that Kent had to get 55 runs at 7.8 an over to win. Nabi wasn’t hanging around. Nowhere was safe in Kennington as he smashed five sixes on all sides of the ground, and stunning the South Londoners with 43 from only 12 balls to secure his place as the latest Kent Spitfires cult hero.
The Spitfires, secured the huge signature of South Africa captain Faf du Plessis to boost their ranks. Yet six defeats in six matches, despite du Plessis averaging 46.00 and Daniel Bell-Drummond and Zak Crawley being in the runs, meant that Kent failed to qualify for the knockout stages.
Adam Milne was awarded Kent’s 217th County Cap after his performances in T20 cricket for three consecutive tournaments, and became the first Kent player to be capped purely based on achievements in the twenty-over-a-side format.
Mohammad Nabi’s services were quickly secured ahead of 2020, and the Club unveiled another update on the Kent Spitfires identity: a bold, “cherry red” logo, cleaner in design and full matching its first-class equivalent logo.
The cricket season may be on hold for now, but the Spitfires are always ready for battle. Proud of their history and boosted by their loyal and fervent supporters that follow them around the country, the Kent Spitfires will be back, and better than ever.