July 26, 2013

Lessons from Kent departures past

Kent have paid the price for releasing talented players before - let's hope they don't make that mistake with Ben Harmison and Calum Haggett

Ben Harmison recorded his first hundred for Kent - and his first since 2007 © Getty Images

During Kent's recent Championship draw against Hampshire, Michael Carberry took understandable delight in waving his bat at the Kent committee rooms after making a patient century. This was his revenge on a county that had, in Carberry's words, "messed me about" during three unhappy years in Canterbury.

As Kent seek to rebuild their side, Carberry provides a cautionary tale. His performances for Kent were good (he averaged 37.75), but he shuffled around the batting order as Rob Key and Ed Smith floated in and out of the England side. In his last season, Kent simply gave up on him - he didn't play a single Championship game.

Another player Kent members wish we could have back is David Masters. Described by former captain Matthew Fleming as someone who would "run through burning coals to play for Kent", Masters lacks pace but has willed himself to become one of the meanest bowlers on the county circuit with Essex.

In the days when we could cast aside such obvious talent, Kent had realistic trophy ambitions (albeit only realised once, with 2007's T20 title). Now, we are strictly also-rans - Carberry and Masters would walk into our present side. Yet, soon we will once again need to decide which young players to give an extended run, and which to cast aside.

High hopes rest on Daniel Bell-Drummond, Adam Ball and Sam Northeast: home-grown players who won't quite have given up on representing England. They must eventually replace our two matchwinners, Rob Key and Darren Stevens, both sadly in the twilights of their careers.

But I hope we don't forget the mistakes made in rejecting Carberry and Masters. As well as trying to find future superstars, every team also needs players who have the determination to make the most of more limited ability.

I have seen signs in recent weeks that two less-fancied Kent players, Ben Harmison and Calum Haggett, might "do a Masters" and, having been rejected by their home counties, eventually become respected pros elsewhere.

Harmison is the only member of Kent's squad aged between 25 and 30 (he's 27). His first year with Kent was a disaster. Asked to bat at No. 3, he struggled desperately and - after completely failing to keep up with the required rate during a fourth-innings run chase - was jeered from the field at Tunbridge Wells. His subsequent demotion to the seconds seemed almost merciful.

Once considered an allrounder, he cut a rather sad figure earlier this season - constantly practising his bowling action in the outfield, but never actually being asked to bowl. But, now batting in the more comfortable No. 5 slot, he has struck up an understanding with Darren Stevens, compiling a series of century partnerships. A couple of useful fifties gave way to a chanceless unbeaten hundred against Gloucestershire - his first time past three figures since his maiden Championship hundred in 2007.

Many players would never have recovered from such a terrible first season at a second county - Harmison has, and he will likely now be an automatic selection for the rest of the season.

Haggett, meanwhile, joined Kent after heart problems scuppered a potentially promising career at Somerset. As a trialist, he was Kent's hero in an agonisingly close 2nd XI Championship final last year, enough to win a contract. But, with several seamers ahead in the queue, I assumed he was just making up the numbers.

After eight first-class games, he has 19 wickets at 32.57. Nothing special, you might say. But, the stats don't tell the whole story. He has muscled through to take the new ball in the last two games and three wickets in each represents a reasonable return, especially when you consider that his new ball parter, Vernon Philander - currently ranked No. 2 in the world - went wicketless.

Haggett and Harmison have both hit form as Kent's season seems finally to have got going. We won a Championship game at last (chasing down 411 at Cheltenham, with Brendan Nash retiring on 199 after suffering heat stroke) and have restored some pride with two wins in the T20. Not enough to make up for our dreadful start, but still ... something to cling to.

Kent fan Ben Howarth first became a junior member in 1995. He tweets here