Post-Pandemic success: 2021-2023 | Short History of the Kent Spitfires

Friday 26th April 2024

Men’s First Team

Post-Pandemic success: 2021-2023 | Short History of the Kent Spitfires

April 2024 is the 25th anniversary of the Kent Spitfires name – the moniker Kent Cricket uses in T20 & white-ball cricket!

We take a deep dive into the history of the Kent Spitfires – two-time T20 champions & 2022 One Day Cup winners…

After the truncated white-ball Summer of 2020, despite red-hot temperatures that August but with no supporters in stadia, the start of 2021’s county season faced a lot of uncertainty.

Kent started their Championship season still behind closed doors, but as Government restrictions started to lift, more and more supporters were able to witness the Spitfires live at The Spitfire Ground. The decision was made to play all T20s at Canterbury in 2021 should the need for restrictions return, but on 9 June, spectators were back watching the Spitfires in T20 competition (albeit at a smaller venue capacity).

The day of the game arrived with signings from 2020, such as Jack Leaning & Academy graduate Jordan Cox, facing the unique situation of playing their first home match in front of a crowd, despite both having hit double hundreds at Canterbury the Summer prior.

James Logan celebrates a wicket

A completely new face was also at The Spitfire Ground for the Hampshire Hawks match. The county announced the signing of left-arm spinner James Logan on a short-term deal after impressing in Second XI T20 cricket after the end of his Yorkshire contract, and a career-ending shoulder injury to the Club’s frontline left-arm spinner, Imran Qayyum. Logan found himself in the squad for the team that night. Once the teams were announced, it was confirmed that the then 23-year-old would be making his debut that day.

Logan took his chance well. After being inserted by Hampshire, Kent made 176/6. After a strong reply by the visitors, Fred Klaassen made huge in-roads in the Hawks’ middle order, but this was profiting on the pressure made by Logan at one end. ‘Loges’ ended the match with figures of 1-14, with an economy of under five, to put huge scoreboard pressure on that enabled Klaassen to take 4-32, and 2-22 from Darren Stevens.

Fresh from making their home debuts in front of supporters for the first time, Leaning & Cox combined in their second home match to devastating effect, both striking at over 140.00 to put on a record partnership of 123 against Middlesex to help Kent cruise to victory.

The Spitfires then overcame their ‘bogey team’ Gloucestershire by 5 runs, before an away defeat to Somerset and a big win away at Glamorgan before a mammoth 67-run victory over Essex Eagles at Canterbury, 88 from 44 for Daniel Bell-Drummond & 3-15 from Jack Leaning. Things were looking good for the Spitfires in 2021’s Vitality Blast.

Glos would get revenge by winning at Bristol, and Kent would be fortunate at Chelmsford, with a DLS-victory awarded after the players left the field as soon as the minimum amount of overs were reached, before another defeat to Somerset, this time at home.

Kent’s Scottish internationals Safyaan Sharif (L) Calum Macleod (C) and George Munsey (R)

Adam Milne returned for another stint as a Spitfire and announced his arrival with a hat-trick at The Spitfire Ground against oldest rivals Surrey, ending the match with figures of 4-38. The return fixture at the Kia Oval would be one that Kent supporters would remember for years to come, and not just because of their manner of victory that night.

The Spitfires obliterated Surrey at the Oval on 9 July. The hosts would limp to 128/7 after Sam Billings won the Toss & chose to field, with outstanding catches from Klaassen & Cox giving Kent all of the momentum. Kent only lost one wicket on their way to a crushing 9 wicket win, Daniel Bell-Drummond top-scoring with 53.

Then the Kent McSpitfires happened. A story that needs its own full-page article.

Read The Road to Edgbaston: “Kent McSpitfires” here

The McSpitfires will always have their unique place in the history of the Kent Spitfires, and the part they played to bring success back to Canterbury after 14 years. Their record win at Lord’s secured a lucrative home Quarter Final for the Spitfires against Birmingham Bears, but both sides would have to wait over a month to play it.

With success in T20, Kent would have a One-Day Cup to forget in 2021, winning just one match to finish bottom of their group, with multiple senior players unavailable due to The Hundred, which got underway for the first time that Summer.

Over a month after their last T20 match, the now full-strength Spitfires welcomed the Birmingham Bears to Canterbury, with a place at Finals Day on the line.

The Leslie Ames Stand with “COME ON YOU SPITFIRES” draped over its balcony

The stakes were then raised even higher on social media – travelling Bears player Tim Bresnan posted on his channels thanking Kent for the ‘warm welcome’, with a selfie in front of a ‘Bear Island’ advertising hoarding in front of the Leslie Ames Stand, which was being used at the away changing room due to restrictions. Kent responded with a 40-foot long “COME ON YOU SPITFIRES” banner draped on the Les Ames balcony on the morning of the match.

This would be the first home T20 at full capacity following the complete ending of Government restrictions, and tickets had sold out in a day.

The Spitfires did not disappoint. After losing the Toss & asked to bat first, half centuries from Bell-Drummond & skipper Sam Billings helped Kent score 162/7, before 4-24 from Matt Milnes saw the Bears only make 141 all-out in their 20 overs – the winning wicket with the last ball, a great sliding catch from Alex Blake, greeted with absolute pandemonium from all sides of The Spitfire Ground, no least the ‘New Happy Hill’ on the Southern Bank of the St Lawrence. Kent were in the first Finals Day since 2009, and the Club sent its best wishes to Tim Bresnan on Twitter.

Saturday 18 September. Edgbaston. Finals Day.

Kent faced Sussex Sharks in the second semi-final of the day, after watching Somerset, who had beaten Kent twice in the Group Stage, devour Hampshire Hawks to book their place in the Final.

The Spitfires won the Toss & chose to bat, a good decision made as Bell-Drummond continued his red-hot form that he had had all tournament with 82 runs from 51 balls. After a stuttering middle-over spell, Darren Stevens rolled back the years to give a definitive ‘Stevo’ knock of 47 from 28, delighting the number of Kent supporters that had dressed-up as the Kent legend for the day.

Kent celebrate with the Vitality Blast trophy

Fred Klaassen produced another inspiring performance with the ball, figures of 4-17, as Kent won by 21 runs and set up a final showdown with Somerset.

A lot has already been written about that final. That piece of fielding on the boundary, the catch that was originally given but then taken away and awarding six runs, the absolute scenes at the end of the match as well. Speaking of absolute scenes, there’s a lot that also cannot be written, too… We’ll let the match report written that day by ECB Reporters’ Network’s Fred Atkins, who has also released a book chronicling the whole of the 2021 season, do the talking here.

Read the 2021 Vitality Blast Final Match Report here

If 2021 had been all about T20, 2022 was all about the One Day Cup.

This was the last edition of the ‘Royal London Cup’ as it had become known, and was once again set to take place during The Hundred, meaning that Kent’s players selected to play in that tournament that year were unavailable. Following a lacklustre defence of the Vitality Blast, focus fully shifted onto the Royal London Cup.

Then-Bowling Coach Simon Cook was appointed as Interim Head Coach, with Matt Walker working with Oval Invincibles, and Joe Denly was named as Captain for the tournament, despite injury keeping the Kent all-rounder out of the first few matches.

The tournament got off to a fantastic start for Kent, after warm-ups at Woolpit CC in a one-day National County match with Suffolk. Against Worcestershire Rapids at New Road, homegrown talent Ollie Robinson hit a new record individual score for Kent in List A cricket, the first double hundred from any batter in Kent’s history of the one-day game, from just 131 deliveries, with 27 fours and six sixes. A seven-wicket win in the midlands was sent back to Earth two days later in Wales, with a heavy defeat to Glamorgan, despite a century from new recruit Joey Evison in his second List A appearance for the county.

Kent could not buy a win from that point. They lost by a huge 163 runs at Beckenham against Hampshire, and an even bigger 182 runs at Chelmsford against Essex Eagles. Pressure was being put on everyone at the Club on social media to turn results around. In order to qualify from the group and due to results elsewhere, Kent had to effectively win all of their remaining matches to get out of Group B and into the knockout stages.

Everything changed with a four-wicket win over Northamptonshire Steelbacks at The Spitfire Ground. 4-36 from Hamidullah Qadri was the pick of a re-energised Spitfires attack that dismissed the visitors for 210, before Ben Compton hit 87 & Joe Denly 42 on the way to Kent’s first victory since the opening day of the tournament.

Grant Stewart roars after hitting the winning runs vs. Yorkshire Vikings

The Spitfires welcomed Yorkshire Vikings to Canterbury on 19 August, and won the Toss to insert the Vikings in to bat. Openers Will Fraine & Harry Duke both made half centuries, and Finlay Bean 61 on List A debut, as Yorkshire posted 282/6. Kent’s reply got off to a good start after recovering from losing Joey Evison first ball – Ben Compton made 81, Ollie Robinson 59 and skipper Denly 61, but the required rate continued to climb and fate had decided that Kent needed a six from the final ball to win the match.

All of their hopes of qualification rested on this delivery. Revis to Grant Stewart. The Grantnade. ‘Il Grantata’. The exact batter you would want in this situation. A back-of-length delivery into Stewart’s ribs was absolutely carted high over the New Happy Hill, with an audible roar from all inside the venue, including Stewart himself, that could apparently be heard half a mile away, ending a euphoric win for the Spitfires.

A similar situation happened in Kent’s very next match at home to Lancashire: win the Toss & field, Lancashire make 295/9, Kent lose early wickets and rebuild to a crescendo. This time Harry Podmore was the hero – with two wickets left in Kent’s innings, and two balls to spare, the right-hand deftly cut Luke Wells to the boundary outside the Oriole at Lime Tree Café to thunderous applause and another emotive ending. Kent were into the Quarter Finals after having been all-but-out just weeks prior.

Leicestershire Foxes were given the home tie after finishing higher in their group, and it was a return of Darren Stevens to his former county. He would make 41 from just 20 deliveries in another trademark Stevo innings – clearing multiple buildings with his two sixes following on from half centuries from Evison, Compton and Denly. Chasing down 326, the Foxes only made 244 all out in 42.4 overs, with the hero of Yorkshire, Grant Stewart, taking 4-42, Podmore 3-35. For the first time in the tournament since the win at Worcester, Kent were in control and cruising.

The 2022 RLC Final would prove to be Darren Stevens’ final match

In the Semi-Final at Hampshire, Kent won the Toss & decided to field first, which looked like it could have backfired following 75 from Hampshire skipper Nick Gubbins and half centuries from Aneurin Donald & Felix Organ. In reply, Ollie Robinson made 95, but it was Stevens who was the hero – blasting 84 from 65 whilst carrying an apparent calf injury, hitting the winning runs to send Kent to successive white-ball finals.

We’ll also let the Match Report do the talking here, from that day at Trent Bridge:

Read the 2022 Royal London Cup Final Match Report here

Kent had won the one-day cup after eight successive losing finals dating all the way back to the 1970s.

2023’s edition of the One Day Cup had a new sponsor, the Metro Bank One Day Cup. Again, it was to be played in high Summer, with the Club offering tickets at just £1 for Under-14s, and offering young supporters the chance to interview their heroes via the ‘Junior Journo‘ program for the One Day Cup.

Cricket fans took to the 2023 Metro Bank One Day Cup with open arms, with X users dubbing the term #MetroBankFever. Entertainment was had with centuries from both Ben Compton & Joey Evison at Scarborough, and wickets coming from an international star signing.

England international Matt Parkinson joined the Club on loan ahead of his permanent move that coming Winter, and Australian James Bazley was bought in as an overseas player. The Spitfires won four of their eight group matches, missing out on the knockout stages by just two points.

Australia seamer Kane Richardson was with Kent for the 2023 Vitality Blast, with Kent also missing out on qualification for the knockout stages by just two points. Two strong showings in white-ball cricket in 2023 sets the platform for an exciting upcoming Summer of white-ball cricket across the country in 2024.

By Liam Knight

Read Part 1: 1999-2004 here

Read Part 2: 2005-2010 here

Read Part 3: 2011-2016 here

Read Part 4: 2017-2020 here

Vitality Blast is back this June & July!

  • The most exciting form of county cricket – international T20 & Hundred stars feature for county sides in a format that usually lasts around three hours – the perfect sporting night out!

Buy your T20 tickets here

Scramble your squadron for a choice of Friday nights & weekends this June & July and enjoy discounts on tickets for groups of six or more!