County Championship: Paul Downton delighted to be back at Kent after taking up director of cricket role
PUBLISHED: 13:45 28 March 2018
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Former wicket-keeper started County Championship career with Kent
Forty years since winning MCC selection to tour Pakistan as an uncapped Kent player, former wicketkeeper Paul Downton has returned to the county of his roots to take up the club’s new post of director of cricket.
Born in Farnborough and schooled in Sevenoaks, Downton, who turns 61 next week, played 45 first class matches for Kent as the understudy to club legend, Alan Knott.
Though Downton’s glovework was more than reliable – he made 109 dismissals for Kent at an average of 2.4 per game (a level he went on to maintain throughout his 314-match career) – his batting proved limited in comparison to the mercurial Knott.
So, with a modest batting average of 11.31 and a Kent best of 31 not out, Downton uprooted to Middlesex, where he went on to forge a successful career that led to 30 England Test caps, numerous domestic honours and a gritty batting technique that reaped six first-class hundreds as well as four Test 50s.
Realising just how time had flown, Downton, who retired from playing in 1991 after a flying bail left him with an eye injury, said: “It’s brilliant to be back and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first few weeks. It is slightly odd to think that I first walked up that driveway back in 1976 to become a professional cricketer, that’s 42 years ago, but it’s terrific to return and I’m really excited by the start.”
Downton’s homecoming follows a winter of transformation at the county both on and off the field, yet he sees his new role as one of great opportunity. He said: “There have been a lot of change in a lot of places within the club. A new chairman within the past 12 months, a new chief executive and now, a new captain. My role is a new one as well, so it’s been a busy time of year to come on board with plenty to get to grips with.
“My start date was February 12 and I flew to Antigua the following day on the club’s pre-season tour which was a great opportunity to meet the vast majority of our players and coaching staff. I sat down for 45 minutes with each of them which gave us a great chance to get to know each other a little better.”
Since his return from the Caribbean, Downton has started to oversee the club’s recruitment programme and successfully secured the signings of Heino Kuhn, Matt Henry, Adam Milne and Marcus Stoinis, the latter pairing exclusively for Kent Spitfires Vitality Blast T20 campaign.
Downton added: “Squad strengthening from the overseas player point of view has gone really well, but I arrived right at the end of the captaincy situation. That was a decision the club and Sam Northeast had already made. It was clear that stance wasn’t going to change and I took the job on that basis.
“Sam Billings had already been offered the job at that point and I’m absolutely fine with that. It’s clearly tricky that Sam will be away [at the IPL] for the first six weeks of our season, but that’s modern-day cricket for you. When you have high-quality players on your staff then the demands on their time means they won’t always be available to the county. That said, the difference Sam has made simply by being around the place over the past few weeks of pre-season has been terrific.
“In a way there’s a clean sheet of paper for everyone at the start of this year and, from my point of view, the atmosphere and environment around the club has been absolutely outstanding. To go to Antigua and see these guys playing and, in many cases, out-performing the opposition, was very encouraging.”
In reading Downton’s positivity early in his role, every success-starved Kent supporter will be echo his sentiments in saying: ‘And long may that continue’.