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Walker looks back on Kent’s season
Walker looks back on Kent’s season

The 2023 domestic cricket season has been consigned to the record books and for Kent coach Matt Walker it was a season of struggles with both the red and white ball.

It was also the season that saw the end of an era at Canterbury with the departure of Paul Downton, the end of the Sam Billings’ era of being Club Captain along with the comings and goings of the playing staff. 

We have sat down with Walker for his fullest and frankest interviews since Kent’s Great Escape on the Final Day of the Championship season and over the course of this next week, we will be talking to the coach about the summer of 2023, and we start today with the red ball season… 

“It’s been a really tough year for lots of reasons,” Walker admitted, “but I am really proud of the boys in achieving Division One status again, and to have been in the Division now since 2019. That is an achievement for the players and the coaches and all the Club.” 

“The members and supporters do not want to be in a relegation battle – none of us want that, we want to be playing better cricket and winning games of cricket. But that is becoming harder and harder to keep up with some of these sides in terms of recruitment and how much stronger they are getting.” 

“But ultimately it is what it is and that’s County Cricket!” 

“We know what we are – we always must punch above our weight, and we just about punched hard enough this year to stay in Division One.”

“It will be the same next year – it will be a strong Division again and you could argue it will be even stronger with Durham coming up who I think will be a real force and a strong side.”

“We must learn the lessons from this year as we have in previous years. We have really struggled to take twenty wickets and at times we have really struggled to put pressure on with the bat and score first innings runs.”

“We are very aware of that, and we are trying to do our best to put that right as we did all season. It did not really happen this year and it did not really come with too many memories along the way, but as always there have been some real positives and several players will be better for it with the exposure they have had and with the emergence of some of the younger players along the way will be so much better for it.”

“Next year, hopefully we can come back stronger and with a better understanding of what it is going to take, not just to stay in the Division but also finish a lot higher up the table.” 

“I guess the overriding feeling is one of relief in some ways that we managed to stay in the Division, which I suppose was the goal from three or four games out I guess – that was our goal when we knew that’s where we were; the objective had to be staying in Division One, and we achieved it, just about!” Walker admitted. 

“It was never going to be straight forward when you are in a head-to-head with another team. We felt that we would have to have won at least one or two of the last games, but as it turned out we did not have to win any!”

“There were some good performances, and we showed some real fight and character and skill in those last games – certainly in two of them we were very good and albeit but for some late order partnerships against us, we could have well won both the home games.”

“We played enough good cricket to stay up and I suppose that is what counted – we were never going to achieve much more than that positionally towards the back end!”

“It was the objective and that was achieved – it is hard to get jubilant about as you do not really want to be in those situations; of course, we would rather be challenging at the other end and for higher positions and the title, but I think we have learned a lot of lessons this year!”

“That division was as strong as I can ever remember it being with some very, very good sides who have got even stronger and I think, with everything we faced this year and the challenges that set us back from really the word go made it very difficult for us to achieve much better to what we did!” 

“If you look at the sides who finished above us, they are very good sides! We know that we can do better, we know we can challenge these sides and we know that we can beat them on our day.”

“But we didn’t take them when we had the chances, when we had the opportunities at the start of the year – we didn’t really win those moments which allowed us real chances to win a game of cricket, but we found ourselves in a pretty tricky situation, but to stay in that division and to have fought really hard.” 

“We’ll always look at those last games but there were other moments in the season that were very crucial, and we did play pretty well.” 

We then spoke about Walker’s highlights for the season and he said, “from an individual perspective, it has to Daniel’s (Bell-Drummond) three hundred at Northampton – it was a heck of an achievement along with Tawanda’s maiden hundred and a big one at that, was a big partnership and the effort we put in to win that game was really good with some fantastic good individual performances…” 

“The away game at Notts was a very tough game to take as we went into that game where we lost two batters and had a very young attack, was probably when we were at our lowest ebb with injuries and again we scrapped pretty hard, but on the last day we collapsed in a bit of a heap – it was a tough game and we really let ourselves down.” 

“I will never question the boy’s attitude in terms of the work that they put in, but it just did not come, and it builds up and it builds up and you get into a rut and those moments happen again.”

“You think you are getting players fit and you are hit with it again and that hurt us repeatedly. With injuries, I think that you have to accept as a team and a coach, that you are going to get them and that is the way it is!”

“For us, when it is on a scale like it has been this year, it is hard to be able to deal with. I do not know what the number is, but everyone had some time on the sidelines, and that really hurts a side like us as we need our best team on the park most of the time.”

“You have to rest players but under your control as they need a rest and not because of injury. That really took its toll, and it made our season really disjointed where we couldn’t get the consistency of team which made it difficult for us!” 

Some supporters have commented on the fixture schedules as there are only five of the sides in the First Division that Kent played twice and that included playing seven of their fourteen games against sides who finished in the top four places – namely Surrey, Essex, Hampshire, and Warwickshire.

“I still don’t know how the fixtures are worked out,” Walker told us, “whether it’s random or you play your local rivals twice, which I admit makes sense from the cost point of view, but to be constantly playing the best teams twice does put you at a disadvantage really!”

“If it’s random then it’s random, but sometimes it works in your favour and some that it does not, but we have only played Middlesex and Somerset once this year (the two sides who finished either side of Walker’s side in the final table).”

“I am not saying that we would have beaten them second time round, but we do have that uneven split of games of only playing some sides once, there must be a question asked about that.”

“That sounds like an excuse – I do not know! Of course, you want to play the best sides, but in a sense of fairness, you want that to be, I would like to think, randomly picked and if you do get the best teams twice then so be it!” 

“Ideally you want it to be an even split where everyone plays the same sides the same number of times – that may sound like excuses, but it is something that is not missed by me… and it is the same in T20!”

“You want local derbies, but you also want it to be a fair competition – I cannot see the schedule changing for the next season coming; there might be a slight difference, but there will be the same amount of cricket, I am sure!” 

That then is the red ball season into the history books – join us tomorrow as our season review with Matt Walker looks at the highs and the lows of Kent’s white ball summer…