Walker optimistic ahead of new season
Walker optimistic ahead of new season

A busy winter spent re-shaping Kent’s administrative and coaching structures is already paying dividends according to the club’s head coach, Matt Walker.

After nine years at the helm the county’s chief executive Jamie Clifford left for pastures new with the MCC, to be replaced by Ben Green, formerly with the All England Tennis Club. Graham Johnson, Kent’s long-serving honorary chairman of cricket, also retired to be replaced, in January, by former team-mate Paul Downton, who has joined the staff in a new role as director of cricket.

After overcoming visa issues that prevented his arrival in 2017, former South Africa pace-ace Allan Donald has become assistant coach, while England ‘keeper-batsman Sam Billings has been named captain following the departure of Sam Northeast to Hampshire.

Indeed, the revolving doors have barely stopped with the announcement of four new player signings. Heino Kuhn, the 33-year-old former South Africa Test bat, will join on Kolpak terms for the entire season. Kuhn seems set to bat at No4 to replace the runs lost by Northeast’s exit and is renowned as an excellent slip fielder.

Kiwi Test firebrand Matt Henry, the 26-year-old right-armer from Christchurch, has also signed up for Kent’s opening seven four-day games as well as the Royal London One-Day Cup campaign.

There will also be an Antipodean flavour to Spitfires Vitality Blast squad following news that Blackcaps’ spearhead Adam Milne is to return to the Garden of England, and will be joined by 28-year-old Western Australian all-rounder, IPL and Big Bash star, Marcus Stoinis.

Whilst delighted with his four ‘overseas’ recruits Walker suggests the club could yet make one more domestic addition to a bowling department that lost four members during the close season in Matt Coles, who joined Essex, as well as Adam Ball, Charlie Hartley and Hugh Bernard, who were all released.

“I’ll admit that last year was tricky on and off the field,” conceded Walker. “There was no consistency or continuity on the field or in terms of the coaching staff I had at my disposal. We were having to juggle things a little bit, but Allan’s arrival this year as assistant coach gives us the experience and continuity we so needed. He’s had time to spend with the guys out in Antigua on our pre-season tour and we’ve still got back-up from the likes of Min Patel and Mark Ealham.

“We’ve also added a full-time physiotherapist for the 2nd XI so, with Paul [Downton] coming in as director of cricket and Ben [Green] as our new CEO, I’d like to think we’ve got a better structure to the backroom team and I’ve got a lot more help behind the scenes, which I felt was badly needed.”

Walker added: “We’re already feeling the benefit of all these changes. Having someone like Paul here, in charge of the cricket business side, who’s here on site five or six days a week just helps get things done that much quicker.

“Paul will be the sensible head if you like, the man to ask questions of us as coaches and also the man to tell us we can’t have all the players we want!

“Already, he’s really helped getting deals done and in moving the team forward.”

With a new skipper in Billings, and Joe Denly as his vice-captain, Kent look set to take to the field full of new ideas and fresh faces and, according to Walker, with a determination to put a couple of disappointing seasons behind them.

“It feels like we’ve drawn a line in the sand and that we’re starting again,” added the former Kent and Essex batsman. “There’s a real freshness amongst the group and there’s a belief that, in terms of structure, we’re slowly getting there.

“Our budget isn’t huge or excessive, but right now I’m very happy with the way things look.”

Kent were forced to postpone their proposed two-day friendly with Hampshire this week due to a wet outfield, so will now start their campaign on Sunday, April 1, when they welcome Oxford University MCCU to the Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence for a three-day friendly.