Kent keeper Geraint Jones tells Jo Harman that with a new skipper at the helm and a host of talented youngsters beginning to make their mark, a return to the top tier of the County Championship has to be the target in 2013.
There have been some changes at Kent over the winter with Rob Key stepping down as captain and James Tredwell taking over. How do you think that will affect the team?
Rob did a fantastic job as skipper – I think he was the longest serving captain across all the counties – but he was pretty worn out after seven years so hopefully this can revitalise him in terms of the runs he scores for Kent. Tredders is a vastly different character and he’s got some definite ideas about how he wants to influence the side. From the brief chats I’ve had with him, part of that will come from the England tours he’s been on where he’s been able to witness the best in the world first-hand in Strauss and Flower, and now Cook and Flower. There are bits and pieces from the England set-up he wants to incorporate into this Kent side and that will provide another fresh injection. We had a decent season last year and if we can just lift our game a little bit then we should be right up there fighting for promotion.
Is promotion to the top tier of the County Championship the main goal in the upcoming campaign?
I think it is. The committee and the members want to see us playing in the top division and that’s where they feel Kent cricket should be. The club has a rich history and tradition and as players we want to be tested in Division One. That’s definitely a big goal but there’s also the Twenty20 – if you do well in Twenty20 it generally gets the crowd in and helps the funds. For me, the four-day stuff is still the ultimate, if you win the Championship it’s an all-round test, but winning the Twenty20 would be a pretty close run thing. Finals Day is an incredible day. You always set out at the start of the year to win everything you can and it’s been made clear to us that winning promotion is a huge part of that.
We’ve seen several youngsters from the Kent Academy breakthrough and perform impressively in the first team over the last couple of years. Which of the current crop stand out for you?
Sam Billings made a huge impact last year in the one-day side. He got 143 [against Derbyshire at Canterbury] in the CB40 last season, which is the ground record for a one-day score. A couple of performances like that on TV and people start talking about you. I batted a lot with Sam in that innings and it was an incredible knock – he showed he’s got a big future. He’s certainly one to keep an eye on.
And he’s a keeper too… you don’t intend on handing over the gloves to him anytime soon?
No, not yet. I’ll keep him out in the field for as long as I can! That’s the other thing, he’s a superb fieldsman and I think he enjoys fielding quite a lot, so hopefully I’ll stay behind the stumps for a while yet!
Any other youngsters you’re particularly excited by?
There’s Daniel Bell-Drummond who’s had an incredible school and England under 19 career. He needs to be tested at first-class level now. He didn’t get much of a run last year because the England under 19s were more or less centrally contracted due to the Under 19 World Cup. We hardly saw any of him and Bally [Adam Ball] last year but Daniel got a chance against South Africa and did well before he went off to play for the under 19s again. This year he’s here full-time so he has a full season to try and make an impression. He’s working on his game in Australia at the moment. He’s a great kid, Daniel. Very dedicated. I remember in January last year or the year before seeing him trudge through the snow because he’d caught the train down from where he lives and he’d walked from the train station in the snow and didn’t say a word about it. And that’s the sort of kid he is. He’s definitely one to watch out for as well.
Sam Northeast is another young batsman who’s been touted for big things. After a couple of difficult seasons he seemed to find his feet last year?
Yeah, Sam’s another one who dominated school cricket and under 19s and found the transition a little bit tough. He’s matured and got a bit stronger, which I think is a big thing. Whereas in previous seasons his place was more or less guaranteed because of his name and his obvious talent, when Jimmy [Adams] came in he just looked at the way the guys were playing and Sam missed out at the start of the year. He had to prove himself and he did exactly that in the second team where he scored a truckload of runs. After that flying start he performed brilliantly for us. His one-day cricket particularly impressed me; he took that ‘finisher’ title on and he was there at the end in a lot of the games we won. He’s aware now of what he needs to do to perform at first-class level and the requirements of him. He’s comfortable with that and I think you’ll see more consistent performances from now on.
You’re going to be playing your part in helping the next generation of Kent cricketers this season, aren’t you?
Yes, I’ve taken on a new role as the Kent Cricket Board Chance to Shine ambassador. I’ve done a few appearances for Chance to Shine in the past but it’s a bit more formalised this year and I’ll be more heavily involved. It’s a great project and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be getting out there and trying to cover as much of Kent as I can, mainly in primary schools. It’s a great sport that we’ve got but there’s so much competition with football and there are some places where cricke