Sam Northeast, who was given permission to speak to other counties last month by Kent, has joined Hampshire on a long-term contract. At least eight clubs were keen to sign him - a greater number, it is believed, than have sought any English cricketer in the past. Northeast almost moved to the Ageas Bowl three years ago and, having been replaced as Kent captain after signalling he would not sign a new contract, now believes he has to play in the first division in order to be in contention for selection by England.
At the age of 28, Northeast is approaching his peak years. A batsman in England, according to another former Kent captain, Colin Cowdrey, does not reach his prime until he is 30. So Hampshire are acquiring a proven run-scorer, one who will not be absent through Test cricket or the IPL for the time being and an individual whose family are close friends with Liam Dawson, the Hampshire allrounder, and his family. Northeast is likely to bat at No. 4, coming in after James Vince, England's most-recent Test No. 3.
Geographically, Northeast is better suited to joining Hampshire than Lancashire or Nottinghamshire, although Southampton is too far to commute from the home he bought recently in Canterbury. Essex, the county champions, were keen to sign him as well, but he was unsure where he would fit into their batting order. Joining Sussex, the closest club, and Jason Gillespie - who believed Northeast should have gone to Australia with the full Test party - would have meant remaining in the second division.
So for Rod Bransgrove, the Hampshire chairman, this is a fillip after the disappointment of not being granted an Ashes Test in 2023. His plans to continue developing the club and the Ageas Bowl will continue apace, also, with a proposed second hotel, possibly a boutique one, owing to the high demand on space at the Hilton. Hampshire will have to pay compensation to buy Northeast out of the remaining year of his contract, but it will not be the equivalent of his salary. An official announcement is expected next week.
Kent maintain that they offered Northeast one of the best contracts in their history to stay with them beyond this season. Although the captaincy is an annual appointment, they were not prepared to allow him to remain as captain for this year unless he signed an extension. "We wanted to plan for the future and spoke to Sam for several months, but he did not want to stay," said a spokesman.
Northeast, who grew up on the Kent coast at Deal and first played for Kent when still at school, was told last year by Matt Walker, the head coach, that he was not their preferred choice of captain. Their relationship broke down irretrievably - to the extent that Northeast stayed away from the St Lawrence ground and practised instead at Beckenham. He has also been frustrated by the club's shortage of finance - largely caused by poor management in the past - and, despite a number of talented young players on the staff, not gaining promotion.
He sought a meeting last month with Simon Philip, the new chairman, but discovered that only Jamie Clifford, the chief executive who was on the cusp of leaving to join MCC, and Graham Johnson, the chairman of the cricket committee who is not standing for re-election to the main committee at the annual meeting this spring, would be present. In that Kent have to start the new season without Sam Billings, their new captain, who will be tied up with the IPL, quite apart from not having Northeast's runs to play with, this change appears to make little sense. Billings will miss the first five or six Championship matches of the summer.
In terms of the breakdown of communication and lack of information to the club's supporters and members, this sorry episode is uncannily reminiscent of the departure of Mike Denness, the most successful captain in Kent's history, and who had captained England, in 1976. What Kent would give now for the two trophies he won that season.