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Northeast epitomises Kent's hopes of redemption

Sam Northeast chipped in with 49 Getty Images

Last season:
Championship: 2nd Div 2; NatWest Blast: 7th South Group; Royal London Cup: QF
In: Will Gidman (Nottinghamshire), Joe Weatherley (Hampshire, loan)
Out: Fabian Cowdrey (retired), David Griffith, Sam Weller (both released)
Overseas:

2016 in a nutshell
Kent had more than one cause for grievance at the end of the season. Having pushed Essex almost all of the way, they unexpectedly lost their penultimate game - against Northamptonshire at Beckenham - and missed out on the chance of a final-round showdown against the eventual champions at Canterbury. That, too, after Kent's opening Championship fixture at New Road was washed out despite three days of sunshine. While finishing second would have been enough for promotion in any other season, Kent felt they were denied twice over, as Durham's subsequent demotion by the ECB led to a reprieve for Hampshire instead. In the white-ball competitions, standards slipped slightly from an impressive 2015 but they still managed a quarter-final appearance in the Royal London Cup.

2017 prospects
There has been a change in management at Canterbury, after five years under Jimmy Adams, but the goals remain pretty much the same. Matt Walker, a former Kent stalwart who served as assistant under Adams, has targeted promotion and the club also has enough talent in the shorter formats to hope for a tilt at a title. Sam Northeast thrived on the captaincy in 2016, scoring 1337 Championship runs with five hundreds, and at 27 he should be hitting his peak years; Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sam Billings are also older and wiser after productive winters. Kent's bowling looks a little creaky, with Mitchell Claydon and Darren Stevens combining for 74 years' life experience, but Will Gidman - signed after a successful loan spell from Nottinghamshire - and Matt Coles offer potency. The lack of an overseas player and Fabian Cowdrey's retirement at 24 might stretch their resources.

In charge
Kent promoted Walker during the off-season and he has already had a chance to get to grips with the role after overseeing the club's participation in the West Indies' Regional Super 50 competition. More intriguing is the identity of Walker's sidekick: Jason Gillespie, a two-time Championship-winning coach and the man who led Yorkshire to Division Two promotion in 2012, will fill the role initially, while permanent appointee Allan Donald works towards the coaching badge required for his visa. Northeast continues as captain in all formats, looking to take the side to new heights after T20 and 50-over quarter-final appearances and a Championship near-miss over the last two years.

Key player
Much will rest on Northeast's ability to continue his rich batting form while captaining in all formats, particularly with Bell-Drummond and Billings likely to miss chunks of the season on Lions/England/IPL duty. At least the arrival of Gidman on a permanent deal will ease the allround burden on Stevens. Now 32, Gidman has significant pedigree at this level, as shown over four seasons at Gloucestershire; things did not go so well at Notts but he will have the chance to show them what they missed out on after their relegation to Division Two. Stellar first-class averages of 40.08 (batting) and 23.63 (bowling) tell a compelling story and he struck a List A career-best 94 during the Regional Super 50 last month.

Bright young thing
Kent have a strong record of bringing through their own but they could do with a young bowler or two stepping up to regular 1st XI action. Ivan Thomas, Hugh Bernard and Matt Hunn are among the seamers who will hope to benefit from the wisdom of Gillespie and Donald over the course of the season, while Imran Qayyum could push through as James Tredwell's spin-bowling deputy. Qayyum, a tall slow left-armer who cites Shahid Afridi as his favourite sportsman, made his List A debut in the Regional Super 50 and may benefit from Adam Riley's struggles since his own breakthrough three seasons ago.

ESPNcricinfo verdict
Will Walker be able to finish off the job Adams started and get Kent back into Division One for the first time since 2010? Have Kent got enough depth in their squad to battle Nottinghamshire, Sussex and Worcestershire while remaining a force in the limited-overs competitions? Can Northeast continue to pile on runs without being whisked away by England? How long can Stevens go on for? So much delicious uncertainty - and a canny overseas signing could tip the balance - but regular pilgrims to Canterbury are hopeful that this season will provide a memorable tale for the telling.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship: 4-1; NatWest Blast: 18-1; Royal London Cup: 20-1