Key back at the helm for Kent
7th, CC Div 2; 5th South Group, FLt20; 4th, Group A, YB40.
2013 in a nutshell
You don't have to go back too far at all to find Kent among the leading counties, a solid fixture in the top division of the Championship and a regular presence in the latter stages of the T20 competition. But the club have swung to a low ebb and last season failed to make any impression on any of the three competitions.
They had little trouble for runs in red-ball cricket - save being bowled out for 63 by Worcestershire - with five players averaging over 40 and scoring 16 centuries - one fewer than Division Two champions Lancashire managed. Unfortunately one of those players wasn't Sam Northeast who went backwards from an excellent 2012. Daniel Bell-Drummond also endured a mediocre campaign but it was his first full season and he is four years Northeast's junior. Robert Key bounced back to form and Darren Stevens also showed there's plenty of life in the old dog.
But Kent found nothing to back up their batsman and had no-one to take wickets on a consistent basis. Their leading wicket-taker was Charlie Shreck with only 33 victims. Mark Davies topped the averages but was only able to play 10 games through injury. Their bowling plans were not helped by the abrupt departure of Matt Coles who left in a huff for Hampshire in August.
Kent's one-day cricket was also disappointing. They lost their first five Friends Life t20 matches but did cause a huge upset by becoming the first team to beat Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl in a year. They were never in the hunt for a Yorkshire Bank 40 semi-final.
Their season was listing to such an extent they were forced to call up Cowdrey. Not MCC from the grave nor 56-year-old Chris but his son Fabian who made a couple of half-centuries in his nine one-day appearances.
When one part of the game is steady there is cause for positivity and more often than not in 2013 Kent put up solid totals in the Championship. If runs flow once more this season they will again be a difficult team to beat - no-one in either division drew more matches than the 11 stalemates Kent shook hands on last season - and they have potential to push up the table if they can find some penetrative bowling.
They have recognised their shortcomings with the ball and assembled a new attack. Mitch Claydon signed a permanent switch from Durham following a loan spell at the end of last season. Further pace will be provided by David Griffiths who has joined from Hampshire and Australian Doug Bollinger looks a fine signing. He still has plenty to offer at 32 and this winter helped New South Wales win the Sheffield Shield with 31 wickets at 24.09. He is available for the entire season too.
Key has taken back the captaincy and he will hope the job does not hinder his batting as it did for two years leading him to give up the job in 2012. He is Kent through and through and best-placed to lead a revival. Their best cricket came in the Championship last season and if they can find an attack with some teeth, they could be a dark-horse in the promotion shake up.
With wickets and runs in all formats, Kent have leaned heavily on Darren Stevens in recent seasons. He continues to do a superb job and remains an exceptionally dangerous player in one-day cricket. There was a danger his career could have been ended had he been found guilty of corruption charges but everyone in Kent breathed a sigh of relief when he was cleared.
Bright young thing
Daniel Bell-Drummond is an exceptionally talented batsman and it is hoped he will have come on from his first season in county cricket, during which he was rather thrown in at the deep end in 13 Championship matches. His aggressive style and lavish strokeplay make him easy to warm to and everyone in English cricket will be hoping he takes his batting forward this season.
For seven years Robert Key was Kent captain and lead a slow decline, eventually giving up the role two seasons ago. But after only a year's break Key is back at the helm and he will hope to return his club closer to where they were when he first began the job back in 2005. Sam Northeast has been made vice-captain. Jimmy Adams, hired as head coach after a strenuous recruitment process in 2012, has signed a contract extension until at least the end of the season.
Not losing is step one to success and Kent did that more often than anyone last year. They have the batting to be successful and a run at Championship promotion could come about if their new bowling attack can fire. It would be surprise if they reached the knockout stages of either one-day competition.
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo