To mark the 50th anniversary of overseas players coming to county cricket in large numbers, we’ve asked an expert on each county to pick their top three for that club. Here’s Kent, as selected by Jo Harman, WCM magazine editor.
1. CARL HOOPER
West Indies (1992-98)
Hooper is generally regarded as an unfulfilled talent but as a kid growing up five-minute’s walk from St Lawrence I was convinced there could be no better batsman on the planet. The unpredictability was all part of the fun. Some days he’d dawdle his way to 20-odd before chipping one to cover, others he’d inexplicably run himself out and stroll back to the pavilion with a gentle shake of the head and a wry smile. He must have frustrated the hell out of his teammates.
But allowances had to be made, because when Hooper clicked he did so with a combination of elegance, power and timing that marked him out as a player of rare gifts. Mike Selvey described Hooper’s Test batting average of 36 as a “dereliction of duty” but over five seasons for Kent his numbers stacked up well: 22 first-class hundreds with an average of 50, more than 4,000 one-day runs at 44, almost 250 wickets with his off-spin and a highlights reel of outrageous slip catches taken in the most laidback manner imaginable.
Hooper returned to county cricket with Lancashire in the twilight of his career, becoming just the second player to score hundreds against all 18 first-class counties – an impressive stat that probably wouldn’t even have raised an eyebrow from an effortlessly cool cricketer.
2. ASIF IQBAL
A born entertainer and influential figure in the Kent side that won the County Championship for the first time in 57 years in 1970, before captaining the county to a shared title in 1977. Iqbal scored nearly 19,000 runs in a trophy-laden career at Canterbury spanning 17 years.
3. ARAVINDA DE SILVA
Sri Lanka (1995)
The Sri Lankan genius only played a single season for Kent, filling in while Hooper was on international duty, but he managed what the Guyanese couldn’t, inspiring the county to their first trophy for 17 years. With a little more support from his teammates it would have been a one-day double, as Kent lost the B&H Cup final to Lancs despite a sensational century from de Silva. He also hit more than 1,600 Championship runs in a team that finished bottom of the table.
“I cannot believe any player, anywhere, has been so popular,” said Kent teammate Graham Cowdrey. “When he packed his bags, he hugged each of us and I have never known a professional sports team so close to tears.”