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Kent director of cricket Paul Downton hopeful of success in new-look County Championship this summer

With a squad weighted heavily on seam bowling, Kent director of cricket Paul Downton fancies their chances of success this summer.

The county begin their County Championship campaign at Northamptonshire on Thursday – the first of eight matches in the next nine weeks.

Kent's Paul Downton talks with head coach Matt Walker. Picture: Ady Kerry
Kent's Paul Downton talks with head coach Matt Walker. Picture: Ady Kerry

Spinners accounted for only nine of the 87 wickets taken by Kent in the Bob Willis Trophy last season, a competition that did not get under way until August.

Given the weather and early season conditions, there will be even less demand for Kent to field a spinner, regardless of the potential of Hamidullah Qadri. Marcus O'Riordan may yet get a reprieve given his undoubted talent with the bat.

That leaves Darren Stevens, who turns 45 on April 30, Harry Podmore and Matt Milnes to lead the attack. Fred Klaassen will look to push his credentials along with Nathan Gilchrist while new recruit Miguel Cummins brings extra pace to the bowling ranks.

"The fact we play eight of the 10 games in the first two months of the year could work to our advantage," explained Downton.

"The first 10 games are basically qualifying games so you can focus very heavily on that.

"The fact we play most of our cricket in April and May means we are probably going to be very seam-orientated. Our strength is in our seam attack.

"From a batting point of view, we are going to lose Sam Billings and obviously Zak Crawley will be with England. We've got an experienced line-up. I think we can get off to a good start.

"We've got to focus on getting into the top two. We've got some interesting battles against Yorkshire and Lancashire who will potentially have their Test players available too so we'll have some big heavyweight contests at the beginning of the season.

"We can focus on 10 matches to qualify, then we'll play white-ball cricket and then we can look at the final games. But obviously our ambition is to qualify into that Division 1 and then top the Championship."

Darren Stevens - shows no signs of letting up as he nears his 45th birthday later this month. Picture: Ady Kerry
Darren Stevens - shows no signs of letting up as he nears his 45th birthday later this month. Picture: Ady Kerry

Changes to the competition might have gone under the radar for many given the last round of county championship matches took place 19 months ago.

The Bob Willis Trophy staged in last summer's truncated campaign both opened the door for young players around the country and widened many eyes to a potentially exciting format going forward.

The counties have been split into three groups of six, the top two in each group will be placed in Division 1 later in the season where the eventual winners will be crowned champions. The top two in Division 1 will also face off for the Bob Willis Trophy.

Downton believes it will be a positive step forward, and wants to give the new format time to bed in.

"It is exciting," he said. "Divisional cricket has its positives and negatives. The idea of best versus the best is great but it leaves half the sides almost in a twilight zone.

"All 18 counties start the year with the potential of winning the championship which is exciting, we'll wait to see how it works out. We know what our tasks are.

"The fact you get eight points for a draw is interesting too so I fear that could lead to some defensive cricket but I know from an ECB perspective teams fighting it out for four days is what they would prefer to produce Test cricketers.

"The game remains undecided in terms of what the future of the County Championship is, but I think we should give this a good go and I would be in favour of continuing this experiment for two or three years to see how it works out. A lot of people got ignored in the old Second Division and weren't picked up so I'm looking forward to it."

Kent bowler Harry Podmore will be hoping for more celebrations like this in 2021. Picture: Ady Kerry
Kent bowler Harry Podmore will be hoping for more celebrations like this in 2021. Picture: Ady Kerry

Progress has been a common theme since Downton rejoined Kent in 2018. His arrival has enabled Matt Walker to hone his focus on coaching, not weighed down by contract negotiations, with Downton strategically helping to add quality in the squad.

It's a partnership that has prospered for Kent, who have reshaped their coaching team in recent seasons with former favourite Simon Cook and ex-Sussex all-rounder Michael Yardy highly-rated by the man at the helm.

"I think everybody can see that we've made some progress over the last few years," added Downton.

"We've built a squad which we focused initially on the bowlers, historically we haven't produced as many seam bowlers, but we brought Harry Podmore and Matt Milnes in and they've done extremely well.

"You look at a group of Jordan Cox, Tawanda Muyeye, Nathan Gilchrist and Hamidullah Qadri – there's a group there who are extremely talented and from that point of view I think the future is bright. Anyone looking from the outside can see that we competed in all formats. The fact we got promoted three years ago, came fourth in 2019 and challenged last year, has shown the progress we're making.

"I think we've also got one of the best coaching set-ups with Walks (Matt Walker) here, Simon Cook has brought a real discipline and focus from a bowling point of view and Mike Yardy is a really talented batting coach. So, bit by bit we're trying to build something which is quite special.

"So far we've managed to progress, we all know sport is fickle but we go into the season with confidence."

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