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Interviews

Daniel Bell-Drummond on Kent captaincy: 'You have to be authentic, people can spot an imposter a mile away'

Kent skipper tips team-mate Zak Crawley to be England's next Test captain

Daniel Bell-Drummond brought up his maiden triple-hundred, Northamptonshire vs Kent, Wantage Road, LV= County Championship, June 27, 2023

Daniel Bell-Drummond has been leading from the front for Kent this season  •  Getty Images

Daniel Bell-Drummond was just three years old when Kent last beat Lancashire away from home in the County Championship.
On Sunday, he took his boyhood county over the line for their first victory at Emirates Old Trafford since 1997, with an innings of 79 not out from 156 balls. It was also Bell-Drummond's first win since taking over as Kent's full-time captain in October.
The scorecard tells of a routine seven-wicket win, though there were nerves. Lancashire were up against it after Nathan Gilchrist (6 for 24) and Wes Agar (4 for 35) skittled them for 92 in response to Kent's first innings of 267, but then Bell-Drummond pushed the button and asked the hosts to follow on. About 90 minutes later, Lancashire were 101 for 1 inside 20 overs.
"I'm quite good at keeping my emotions in check, and I was making sure to do that," Bell-Drummond says. "But, inside, I was definitely… I won't say fearing the worst, but I thought we'd potentially thrown away a brilliant position that we were in. My heart was in my mouth when they got off to a brilliant start in the second innings."
Some of that anxiety was the desperation to make amends after an innings defeat against Surrey. Kent then had a week off, with some of the players getting away to recharge. For Bell-Drummond, that period involved a bit of reflection, in which he checked up on his teammates to ensure they were not too dismayed, kept abreast of how the second team was going, and deliberated selection, which was made a little easier with Gilchrist and Agar returning from injury. It's all part of being a club captain.
Thankfully, three wickets fell on the evening of day two in the space of 20 balls to settle the nerves. "Joey Evison came in and made a big breakthrough for us (removing Josh Bohannon). And some brilliant work behind the stumps by Harry Finch getting rid of Keaton Jennings - I think that was a game-changing piece of play from him (Finch). Being able to take their captain out when he was set made sure we took control of that day." Lancashire eventually posted 332 - the highest score of the match - before they chased down 164 with two sessions to spare.
Bell-Drummond would make that follow-on call again, he says, not just because of how the result panned out. The fear of having to face Nathan Lyon and Tom Hartley batting fourth at a ground that has already shown appreciative spin this season was outweighed by gloomy conditions exacerbated by the floodlights. It was also a chance to heap more pressure on a Lancashire side who have struggled in the opening weeks of the season. "It was really 50-50. We rotated the three seamers mostly, so it was quite tough for them. But that was the best way to push on and win. Thankfully we did."
It's exactly that sort of conviction a captain needs, particularly at a club where the armband squeezes a little tighter than most. Kent's proud history lends itself to a list of vaunted men's skippers, of which Bell-Drummond is the 36th. Plenty of them found it tough, and even on the 42 occasions prior to this season that Bell-Drummond had assumed the role on a temporary basis, he is aware of the expectations supporters have for red-ball cricket and how the job has evolved.
"Things are a lot more efficient now, which is good," he says, when asked if the strain of the job was something he had prepared for. "Simon Cook, our director of cricket, has changed a few things. We've got a selection committee, so it's not a one-man band, which is great for me. More opinions and more experience on the table to help make tough decisions." While previous Kent captains didn't think much for outside interference, Bell-Drummond sees the benefits.
Alongside him in the dressing-room are vice-captain Jack Leaning and Zak Crawley, who will be a more regular presence in the coming months with England's Test summer only beginning in the second week of July. Such is Bell-Drummond's high regard for Crawley that he would not be surprised if he succeeded Ben Stokes as Test captain.
"He's a great leader of men," Bell-Drummond says of the opening batter, whose upturn in form in Test cricket has coincided with him emerging as a figurehead of the England dressing-room. "He sets the standard with everything he does, whether it's how he trains or his attitude and competitiveness in games. He's still a very young man. He's got a long way to go. And for me - yeah, I'm biased - but I definitely see him as a future Test captain.
"I always speak to him about certain things, even when he's not in the dressing-room. Because of my more measured approach, we work off each other very well. There are a few lads in the dressing-room, especially Jack Leaning, who I can bounce ideas off.
"But regarding Zak, he's very professional and hard-working. If anything, he's got more humble the better he's done. That's what's great about him. You come back into the changing-room and he's joking with the youngest player, giving them confidence. He's great for the team and no wonder he's going well with his career because he's very strong mentally and very talented."
Bell-Drummond regularly debriefs with previous incumbent Sam Billings, who remains T20 captain at the club. And he has also been able to call upon the advice of Rob Key, England men's managing director, who was in charge when Bell-Drummond first broke through at Kent, and has always rated him highly.
He's got a long way to go. And for me - yeah, I'm biased - but I definitely see him as a future Test captain.
Bell-Drummond on Zak Crawley
"Keysy's main point around captaincy was to make sure I'm being myself and being authentic because people can spot an imposter a mile off. I've been in the changing-room a while now, 14 years, so I'm just going to carry that same energy forward. He's been extremely supportive. One of the main bits of advice has been to focus on my batting because it's easier to make decisions when you're leading from the front."
Bell-Drummond is clearly adhering to that last nugget. The half-century against Lancashire was his fourth fifty-plus score of the season, which includes 107 not out and 135 against Somerset and Essex respectively. Going into the latest round of matches, Bell-Drummond has 428 runs - the third most in Division One - at an average of 71.33.
It is the product of a lot of hard work in the winter, which the 30-year-old reckons was the first since his GCSE year (15 going on 16) that he has spent at home. A technique reliant on stillness has been reinforced, along with work on his bat swing, as well as mentally preparing for leadership.
"I won't say I'm an introverted guy, but I definitely get out there more and check in on everyone else. I've captained Kent before and was a vice-captain, but it's quite different being club captain.
"With the runs, that was something, deep down inside me, I was desperate to do. Carry on my form from last year (579 runs at 44.53 in nine matches). But also I knew how important it was to be captain and the difference in responsibility of taking the team into account and making sure I was doing the right thing by them.
"With that is an extra pressure, things can go one of two ways. When I'm on my best form, the responsibility will only make me better. On the pitch is sometimes the easiest part of captaincy, and I'm really enjoying it."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo