Walker praises flying Spitfires side
Walker praises flying Spitfires side

Head coach Matt Walker says that strength of character and a surge in his team’s confidence have transformed Kent from South Group also-rans into Royal London One-Day Cup knockout stage qualifiers.

Spitfires started their white-ball campaign with woeful, back-to-back away defeats to Sussex and Middlesex, but five successive wins have since catapulted Sam Billings’ side up to second spot and a certain place in the play-offs.

With 10 points from their seven starts, Kent can still overhaul leaders Hampshire if they defeat Essex in tonight’s remaining south group fixture in Chelmsford. However, the hosts, who lie third, will be looking for their fifth win to secure a play-off berth of their own.

In explaining Kent’s form reversal, Walker said: “We’ve started to bat how we know we can and that has been the major difference between us struggling in games, as we did at the start, to us winning our last five on the bounce.

“The really encouraging thing is that the contributions are coming across the board. We’ve had the significant knocks from Joe [Denly] and Heino [Kuhn] yes, but Daniel Bell-Drummond has also done well up front when the ball’s been nibbling around.

“Alex Blake batted really well in both games up at Beckenham, Sean [Dickson] played a really important innings for us down at Hampshire and ‘Stevo’ [Darren Stevens] has chipped in with a couple of cameos to help get us over the line.

“Our runs are coming through the entire top order and that’s reassuring because it’s what you need to be a successful batting unit. I believe we’re looking like a side that’s growing in confidence with every game.”

Walker, who was given his first chance in coaching at his former club, Essex, also praised the Spitfires’ bowling attack. He said: “It’s good news that we’re putting in all-round team performances. We didn’t do that last year, if we batted well in 2017, we bowled poorly, and vice versa, that was a common theme for us. Now we’re excelling in the three departments; fielding, batting and bowling, and that’s so encouraging.

“Matt Henry has continued his red-ball form into the 50-over game, Calum Haggett has really stepped up and excelled, ‘Stevo’ just keeps showing his experience and nous, while Imran Qayyum has come in to take his opportunity with both hands.

“We’ve worked hard on all aspects of coaching and we’re starting to see the fruit of those hours of practice in our displays out in the middle.”

Kent travel to New Writtle Street tonight backed by a burgeoning social media campaign dubbed #getstevotolords, but Walker says there is much work still to be done if 42-year-old Stevens is to walk on the hallowed turf at NW8 for a first major Lord’s final with Kent on Saturday, June 30.

“We’ll take it game by game,” said Walker. “We enjoy playing at Chelmsford and it has been a good venue for us in the recent past. The size of their ground suits our batting set up, but Essex are a pretty decent side, as are all the teams in this South Group.

“They will come at us hard up front through Adam Wheater and Varun Chopra and the dangerous batters keep on coming through Tom Westley, Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate. We know they have dangerous players, but so have we.

“Sure, it would be lovely for ‘Stevo’ to get to Lord’s, as it would for all of us. I once had the great honour to play for Kent in a Lord’s final and it’s a very special day. But I don’t want to get too far ahead because, at this point, we could still have three more games to get there, but it’s an obvious incentive and just one more thing to motivate the lads.”

Kent have no fresh injury concerns and have named an unchanged squad for a third successive game.


 
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