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Walker proud of Crawley and Billings
Walker proud of Crawley and Billings

With the dust having settled on the 2023 season, Matt Walker looks back on what’s been an interesting summer for both Zak Crawley and Sam Billings.

The 2023 domestic cricket season has been consigned to the record books and for Kent and 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 after talking to the coach about the white and red ball seasons and the departure of Paul Downton, today with the Coach we reflect on two of the Club’s biggest names and their somewhat different seasons – England’s Zak Crawley and outgoing Club Captain Sam Billings… 

We started with Crawley’s summer where he scored vital runs when he was in a Kent shirt, but also was the leading run scorer in the 2023 Ashes series.

“I think if you watched that first ball of the Series, as a lot of people did, with our hearts in our mouth as we know it can be such a pivotal moment of the series, I think that was my proudest moment of the summer as the ball disappeared to the boundary with that shot,” Walker said like a proud “father”.

“What followed was so important for him, I think we were all waiting for it as we all knew it was coming – he’s had a lot of doubters from outside Canterbury for a long time, with media being on his back and being the one that they wanted to focus on.” 

“I think he showed his absolute class and ability in the highest profile Test Series in the world!” 

“Opening the batting is THE toughest position and the way he went about it and the way he played was incredible and please don’t underestimate it – people may, and there will always be cynics out there, but what he did in the summer was outstanding and the style he played; the maturity in his play led to him having a fabulous summer and made a lot of people really happy and was part of a great Test series and England side.” 

“It was an important series for Zak and to do that on that stage, for that team, in the relevance of the series there should be no questions for me that he will have his ups and downs, but he is now a batsman in Test Cricket.”

“We saw the real Zak Crawley and what a fantastic cricketer he is, one of the very best in this country and in the World.” 

“We were all thrilled for him for the way he played throughout the series, and it made anyone who has been involved in his career immensely proud!”

“He has an exciting future and a lot of cricket ahead of him as it was not that long ago, he was making his debut for us!” 

At the start of the summer Sam Billings decided not to head to the IPL as he wanted to play for the county, but sadly Billings has endured a difficult season.

“It’s been tough for him,” Walker confessed. “I think it certainly has not been a summer that he would have liked and certainly not what anyone hoped for.”

“His intensions were absolutely spot on as he wanted to be be around at the start of the season, he wanted to be part of the Championship side and wanted to help us achieve something and I am sure that he saw the opportunity to play Championship cricket.”

“But it did not go well, it is as simple as that! That is what can happen – that’s sport!”

“It started well with a good knock against Northampton, but just was not able to find any form in the next five games.” 

“I think with everything – the captaincy, the way we were playing and losing games – I think the build-up of all of that became very tough, and unless you know what goes on with a captaincy and know the demands of that – the standards he sets himself are very high, when things don’t go well, it’s a hard place to be sometimes.”

“The amount of energy he spent with the team – helping the team, helping the Club and the hours behind the scenes which no-one sees – all the stresses and strains that go with the role… no one sees that, and no-one understands that.” 

“No-one cares about this Club more than Sam – some will argue that as his career has been different to others; he’s been with England, he’s played franchise cricket, but it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care for the Club and wants us to do very well, and I felt very down for him in that early period of the summer as he tried everything he could to do his very best for the team.”

“He realised and took control of the situation to step down from playing in that format and concentrate on playing T20.” 

“There were times when his captaincy in the shorter format was outstanding and I would say that he went a long way to helping us win games with his keeping alone this summer!”

“He’s an enormous amount of experience in the shorter format and he really is a very fine captain in T20 – he would have liked a few more runs, but contributed some useful runs at back end of innings as we moved through the competition and I do think he will continue to thrive as a captain and white ball player.” 

“It was a brave decision to step away from the captaincy which is when he realised that it wasn’t helping him and wasn’t helping the team and that’s a very brave thing to do – he’s a very proud man and has been very proud of being captain of the Club and has brought us a lot of success!” 

We finish our look back with Matt Walker on Friday with a look forward as we cast our attentions ahead to 2024 and the players already committed to coming to the Spitfire Ground…