Take-off: 1999-2004 | Short History of the Kent Spitfires

Thursday 25th April 2024

Men’s First Team

Take-off: 1999-2004 | 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…

With Kent Cricket only deciding on the ‘Spitfires’ name five days before the commencement of the 1999 Sunday League, not much was originally made of the new suffix attached to Kent’s name.

The limited overs kit for 1999, produced by Asics and blue/maroon in design, still featured the White Horse of Kent, rather than the new Kent Spitfires logo which had been revealed alongside the name on 13th April.

To launch the new name, then-skipper Matthew Fleming sat in a replica Supermarine Spitfire at the Spitfire & Hurricane Museum at what was RAF Manston.

After the Spitfires’ grand debut was curtailed by the weather at what was then the St. Lawrence Ground on 18th April, Kent had to wait until a trip to Hampshire on the 25th to get underway in white-ball cricket with their new name.

The new ‘CGU National League’, as the Sunday League was now known, had put Kent Spitfires into Division One of its new structure, and the end of the inaugural tournament saw Kent finish in third place, with eight wins and six defeat from 16 matches, two succumbing to the weather.

Julian Thompson finished Kent Spitfires’ first ‘National League’ season as the Club’s top bowler with eighteen dismissals at 21.22, whilst future captain Rob Key averaged 47.00 in the tournament, scoring 329 runs in 10 matches.

In the NatWest Trophy that year, Kent reached the quarter finals, before losing out to Somerset, who went on to be runners-up.

The turn of the Millennium saw the Kent Spitfires competing on three white-ball fronts.

The kit still only featured the White Horse and blue/maroon (this time manufactured by Vandanel), but the Spitfires had secured the signature of another international superstar to replace Andrew Symonds that year – ‘The Wall’ – India’s Rahul Dravid.

Despite an early exit in the Benson & Hedges Cup and a fourth-round exit in the Westminster Bank Trophy, the Spitfires enjoyed slightly more success in the now Norwich Union National League, finishing in fifth place in Division One.

Dravid scored 437 runs in the tournament, over a hundred more than anyone else, and recorded a List A Century for the Spitfires at St. Lawrence against Worcestershire.

2001 was when everything changed for the Spitfires. A new sky blue and crimson playing kit, now featuring the Kent Spitfires logo, was introduced. Andrew Symonds returned as the Club’s overseas player midway through the season after an impressive short playing spell from South Africa’s Daryl Cullinan. And the Spitfires got their first taste of silverware.

On the final day of the tournament on 16th September, Kent and Leicestershire were neck-and-neck on 46 points. Sky Sports made the decision to cut between the two matches, as either side could lift the trophy. Leicestershire just had to overcome fifth-placed Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, and Kent had the task of defeating Warwickshire at Edgbaston.

Over the course of the tournament, Kent had won ten out of fifteen and were buoyed by the bowling of Martin Saggers and Mark Ealham and skipper Matthew Fleming and James Hockley’s batting.

During the final few overs at Edgbaston, news filtered through that Nottinghamshire had won by five wickets at Trent Bridge, and all Kent had to do now was defend their total of 216 to win the tournament.

Hundreds of travelling Kent supporters witnessed Andrew Symonds take 5/18 and after their 40 overs, Warwickshire only made 208-9 – Kent were the 2001 Norwich Union National League champions.

In 2002, Kent unveiled a new identity for the Kent Spitfires, with a rounded badge that now had a Supermarine Spitfire in its centre, rather than the White Horse.

The Spitfires also looked to make a statement by securing the services of another huge name in world cricket – Australia’s Steve Waugh.

Despite Waugh’s firepower with the bat, the Spitfires found it difficult to retain their National League title, and finished fifth in Division One. However, strong performances in the 50-over-a-side Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy meant that Kent reached the semi-finals without too much difficulty.

Even though Kent missed out on a berth in the final after losing out to Somerset at Taunton, Kent were still on the rise in limited overs cricket. Had they defeated Somerset in that semi-final, losing out by just six runs, it would’ve been a Club record run chase of 345. The match was shown live on Sky Sports and supporters around the country became glued to their seats watching a Kent white-ball side on the verge of something huge.

2003 saw the advent of a new form of the limited-overs game: Twenty20 cricket.

Spitfires supporters flocked to The County Ground, Beckenham to witness this new format of the game. At the time, it had many critics – ‘purists’ proclaimed that this was not ‘real cricket’, and a mere twenty-overs a side would result in a tedious ‘slog-fest’.

However, metropolitan Kent witnessed a victory in the county’s first ever match in this format – defeating Hampshire by six wickets. Andrew Symonds, who seemed a natural in this format with his big hitting and aggressive bowling, smashed 96 runs from only 37 balls to help Kent on their way to victory.

For the 2004 season, a new colourway of black and yellow to compliment the Spitfires logo was introduced, and nicknames were used rather than surnames on the back of the players’ Readers shirts. This was part of an ECB directive to ‘informalise’ this new format. Kent now had ‘Jonesy’ behind the stumps and ‘Walks’ batting at four.

In the one-day game, Kent had now slipped into mediocrity – but in T20 cricket, the Spitfires seemed to be on a mission to entertain. Despite more average results in this format that year, Mote Park in Maidstone was the venue on 2nd July for Andrew Symonds to lay down a marker for every batter since – what was then a world record, and still is a T20 county record, 112 from just 43 balls.

He reached his hundred from only 34 deliveries in 37 minutes, after also contributing 1/17 with the ball. Kent came out victorious by 7 wickets (DLS method) and Symonds had etched his name in Kent Spitfires folklore.

By Liam Knight

Read Part 2: 2005-2010 here

Read Part 3: 2011-2016 here

Read Part 4: 2017-2020 here

Read Part 5: 2021-2023 here

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