Kent Cricket Head Coach Matt Walker has been there and done it. He top-scored in the final for the Spitfires when they last won England’s domestic T20 tournament, hitting 45 runs in 2007, but this is different.
Now Head Coach of the Club, Walker has a different role to play, and Finals Day will be very different to any he experienced as a player.
“It is a lot easier for me to not be playing in it,” he laughs, previewing the day. “I will have been more relaxed as a player than as a coach, although I will be trying my hardest to stay calm.
“As a player those days are your proudest moments. The individual stuff is lovely but winning was always the most important thing. I was lucky enough to win three trophies as a Kent player, but it is different as a coach – there is more of a sense of pride when the team does well.
“It’s out of my hands on the day, and to see this group get to Finals Day was a great moment, but the big days aren’t that great if you don’t win them. The team should enjoy it, but if they win it, it will be something that stays with them forever. But I will be proud of them whatever happens.”
Walker is in a reflective but emotional mood ahead Kent’s first Finals Day since 2009. The most evident thing from his words is that he is incredibly proud of his team.
“Everyone is aware of this squad now,” he says. “It’s not just about one or two people, it’s about a team. We have a great group of players.
“I’m their friend as well as their Head Coach. We spend a lot of time together and we bond. It doesn’t change because you’re Head Coach.
“People have had big experiences, but it’s different with your own county. No matter what I say, on the day you have to adapt, stay calm and take the occasion away. They have no reason to doubt themselves. They should take a lot of confidence. I know they are ready and excited for it.”
Several players that will be involved for the Spitfires on the day made their ways through the academy at Kent before securing a place in the first team, such as Zak Crawley, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Jordan Cox. For Walker, there is nothing better as a coach.
“Seeing people come through the system is the most rewarding part of coaching,” he says, grinning. “You never take credit because it is them and they are so driven, but it makes you the proudest.
“It isn’t about me anymore – I can’t control that stuff; I can only advise and help. Everyone works hard to help the guys, but they are the ones that have got to do it and it makes you extremely proud.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of players. Their work ethic, their attitude, their togetherness and the standards they set themselves are phenomenal.
“Seeing these players reward you and reward themselves is a daily pride. They are starting to achieve and live their dreams.”
Walker himself worked his way to the top at Kent as a player and has his own story. But he’s reluctant to talk about himself.
“It is nice for some of the younger lads to know I could play a bit,” he jokes, again reflecting on 2007. “I remember little bits and it was incredibly special.
“But I don’t look into the fact I could win it as a player and a coach. It would be nice, but it is about the players, the club, and the members. On these occasions it is now about winning, and this group are now ready to do that. We have done well over the last few years and now the group should be challenging to win.
“We have got ourselves into a position where we can and now it is about getting over the line. If we do, it is a huge step in the right direction. I know how hard the group work and they deserve it. But it won’t come on a plate.
“I look at how far my group have come in a short space of time, and it will be a great day for everyone involved in the county. This group will be around together for a while, but if you get over the line you can catapult into a few more trophies.”
The nerves are sure to be felt on Saturday, but that’s normal. It is clear Walker is focused, driven, and full of confidence in his players. They now have a chance to make history.
By Lewis Browning