Billings captaincy will spark scramble for Northeast signing

Kent are expected to announce Sam Billings as their new captain in a decision that will see Sam Northeast leave the county.

There will also be a return as director of cricket for Paul Downton, since his ill-fated England adventure. Downton was ousted as managing director of England Cricket after only 14 months, never recovering from the fallout from the decision to sack Kevin Pietersen.

Northeast, arguably the best batsman not to have been capped by England, will be pursued by a host of leading clubs in what has become one of the most sought-after transfers of the close season.

Sussex’s new head coach Jason Gillespie is a big admirer of Northeast, and the move across the county border would be a relatively easy one.

But Sussex are unlikely to be able to match the financial clout of some of the First Division counties with Nottinghamshire, Hampshire and Essex leading the way.

Notts missed out on Keaton Jennings, who joined Lancashire, and have batting places to fill on their return to the First Division following the retirement of James Taylor and Michael Lumb – the former for health reasons – and Brendon Taylor’s return to Zimbabwe.

Kent’s move for Billings comes despite his presence in the IPL auction, and the fact that his absences at IPL and with England meant that he played only six Championship matches.

He cuts a more effervescent, by-the-book, figure than Northeast, who nevertheless committed himself entirely to his role as Kent captain and who was shaken to discover last month that there was a move for change.

Northeast’s future at Kent was put in doubt last month after he was unofficially advised that he would not be reconsidered for the captaincy unless he restated his long-term commitment to the club by extending a contract which expires at the end of next season.

With England finally beginning to take an interest – he has been selected for the limited-over segment of the Lions’ tour to the West Indies, and also captains the South against the North in a pre-season 50-over tournament in Barbados – it was a guarantee he felt unable to give.

Billings will face an unenviable task in rousing Kent, having already seen his top allrounder, Matt Coles, leave for Essex.

Sussex’s chief executive, Rob Andrew, meanwhile has condemned the County Championship as “a mess” in the latest edition of Wisden Cricket Monthly.

Andrew opposes the promotion and relegation system which he sees as creating habits and reducing the commitment given to developing players. He favours a Conference system involving all 18 counties.

Supporters of the two-divisional structure vehemently argue, in return, that the two-divisional structure plays a vital part in helping to bridge the gap between the First Division and international cricket – a live topic following England’s 4-0 Ashes defeat – and that the pressures of winning and losing help to maintain interest in the media and the ambition of clubs and players alike.

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