Blend of youth and experience key
As much as last season saw Kent go from dead certs to almost rans, it marked a significant improvement on the previous campaign and I'm very optimistic that further progress will be made in 2013. The priority for this year has to be promotion back to Division One of the County Championship.
Lots will rest on the shoulders of new captain, James Tredwell, who has a tough act to follow as Rob Key's successor. After seven years at the helm Key stepped aside in the autumn, citing burnout and the belief that he had taken the side as far as he could. Tredwell's more reserved persona and recent England experience should provide a fresh approach and an injection of new ideas.
Little has changed at Canterbury during the long winter months, other than the management and support staff finally taking up residency in their smart new offices - now rather handily situated for nipping into Sainsbury's when tea-bag stocks are depleted!
Whilst other counties sign up former Test captains and internationals, there is just one fresh face in the Garden of England. Calum Haggett, a former England Under-19s player, has signed from Somerset after impressing with both bat and ball in the Kent seconds at the end of 2012. With just the one new recruit comes the familiarity of a settled dressing room - the players all know one another well, no doubt having bonded in solidarity last season as Darren Stevens regaled them with tales of his golfing achievements, Mark Davies twanged his guitar and Key occasionally enlivened a rain delay by singing along to his iPod over the tannoy, to the delight of the hardy souls shivering under their umbrellas.
So, few changes in personnel for 2013 but this should see Jimmy Adams' young charges given the encouragement to fulfill their potential. Senior pros Geraint Jones, Charlie Shreck, Brendan Nash, Mike Powell, Ben Harmison, Tredwell, Key and Stevens will blend once again with youthful exuberance in the shape of, among others, Matt Coles, Sam Northeast and Sam Billings. With the county as cash strapped as Greece, the likelihood of overseas signings tripping over themselves to come to Kent is unfortunately slim. The upside is that the next generation will be given the chance to prove they really are the future of the club. Coles, whose hard work over the last few seasons earned him a place on the Lions tour to Australia, should be especially keen to prove himself both on and off the field following his dismissal from the tour after breaking a curfew.
Kent are blessed with some extremely talented youngsters, largely as a result of an excellent Academy system. Adams may find one of his trickiest problems is how to shoehorn them into a side that hasn't really struggled of late.
The Yorkshire Bank 40 remains their most likely route into the first team and it was pleasing to see how well the side packed with so many of the younger players performed last summer (in the CB40), only just missing out on qualification and notably inflicting two heavy defeats on finalists Warwickshire. I expect to see Kent building on that experience this year and view progression from the group stage as a realistic achievement.
In Twenty20, qualification from the difficult South Group is now a Kent fan's minimum expectation, although it will have to be done the hard way. As other counties with greater financial clout are able to augment their sides with overseas heavyweights, Kent must look to their own and Stevens in particular. One of the MVPs in Twenty20 over a number of years, having played in New Zealand and Bangladesh to go with his domestic success, it's a travesty that he hasn't been selected for England in this format. If the team plays to their strengths, Finals Day should not be beyond them.
In Championship cricket the No. 3 berth has been an issue for Kent and I'd like to see Key relinquish his opening slot and drop down one, allowing Northeast and Daniel Bell-Drummond - my 'one to watch' for 2013 - to form a successful partnership that could grace Canterbury for many years to come.
Bell-Drummond's availability and that of Adam Ball, after a year when they were largely absent on England Under-19s duty, is a huge boost. Bell-Drummond is especially highly rated and has the talent and aptitude to go a long way in the game.
Of the other young players, Billings impressed in front of the Sky cameras on more than one occasion last year and Northeast finally had the breakthrough season Kent fans had been hoping for, scoring Championship centuries at the top of the order and establishing himself in the Michael Bevan "finisher role" in the shorter forms. It is hoped that Alex Blake can finally emulate Northeast's achievements and kick on this year, as he undoubtedly has the ability.
Add to this mix Adam Riley, Fabian Cowdrey, Ivan Thomas, Ben Kemp, a fit Ash Shaw and last year's deserved player of the season, the marvelously economical strike bowler, Davies, and Kent have a squad that is capable of building on last year's performances and challenging in all formats. If everyone stays fit, I can envisage a trip to Twenty20 Finals Day and promotion in the Championship. However, lose some key personnel at the wrong times to injuries or suffer England call-ups and the season could be done and dusted by August. Hopefully not!
Likely Championship side
What I love The success of our Academy system.
What I'd change I'd wave a magic wand and produce a top Twenty20 overseas player, putting Kent on a more level playing field with other counties and encouraging bums on seats.