County previews April 1, 2013

Side in transition capable of competing

Kent's exciting crop of youngsters is a reason for positivity at Canterbury

Last year: Third, CC Div 2: Group stages, T20; Third in Group C, CB40

2012 in a nutshell: A year of near misses but great improvement. Kent, who finished second from bottom in 2011, narrowly missed out on promotion and a CB40 semi-final in 2012. Unbeaten in the Championship at the end of July, they were then defeated by Derbyshire, Essex and, crucially, Glamorgan in their last game to end their hopes. Just as importantly, Kent were defied by an excellent innings from Jimmy Adams and the rain as they pressed for a win over Hampshire at Southampton at the end of July. Had any of those results gone another way, they could have gone up. It was a similar story in the CB40: they started the final round of games top of their group but lost by nine wickets against Sussex and finished level on points with Warwickshire, who they had beaten easily home and away and over whom they had a better run-rate. But Warwickshire progressed having won more games. There was encouragement, though. Most of their pre-season recruits - intelligent, low-cost additions who had a point to prove - fared well, with Charlie Shreck and Mark Davies claiming 91 Championship wickets between them. The emergence of Sam Northeast - who topped the county's batting averages in the Championship - also boded well for the future.

2013 prospects: Kent is a side, a club even, in something of a transition. A generation of senior players - the likes of Shreck, Stevens, Brendan Nash and Geraint Jones, who are all over 35 - are entering the final phase of their careers and a new batch - the likes of Northeast, Matt Coles, Sam Billings and Daniel Bell-Drummond - are just starting to come through. The club is also adjusting to the new financial reality. Gone are the days when it could attract big-name players with big-money salaries and a sensible new business model has developed with a view to sustaining the club far into the future. Seen in that context, it could be that Kent missed a golden opportunity to go up in 2012. The battle for promotion will be no less fierce this year. Kent, along with Lancashire, Hampshire and Essex, should be among the contenders, but the success of their challenge is again likely to come down to a few key moments. While several key members of their squad may be ageing, there was little sign that any of them were in decline last season and the hope is that Rob Key, now relieved from the burden of captaincy, will be able to recover something approaching his best form in 2013. The young players promise much, but this could be a year too early for most of them.

Key player: Darren Stevens will be 37 at the end of April. It took him a long time to find the consistency to complement his talent but now, with bat and ball, in the longest format or the shortest, he is a quality player and as liable to win a match with his teasing swing or his thumping batting.

Bright young thing: Kent possess some of the brightest young batting talents in the domestic game. Daniel Bell-Drummond, a 19-year-old, made 90 runs for one dismissal in the match against the full strength South Africa attack last summer and looks a bright prospect, as does Sam Billings, the 21-year-old reserve wicketkeeper who fought his way into the List A side as a specialist batsman. Matt Coles, aged 22, has already won Lions recognition. But it is 23-year-old Sam Northeast of whom most will be expected this year. He made three Championship centuries in 2012 and held his own in the limited-overs sides.

Captain /coach: James Tredwell has replaced Rob Key as captain and remains on the periphery of the England team. Former West Indies captain Jimmy Adams is now in his second year as head coach.

Cricinfo's verdict: A club heading in the right direction. Kent have a strong batch of talented young players emerging that could serve them well for the next 10 years or more. While financial pressures remain, the club has a viable business plan now and can look to the future with more confidence than for any time in the last four or five years.

Read our supporters' network preview on Kent. ESPNcricinfo will be publishing a fan blog for each of the 18 counties as we build up to the 2013 season

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo