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The Definitive: Rob Key

Jo Harman by Jo Harman 15 minute read

Kent captain and former England man Rob Key talks to Jo Harman about the defining moments in his run-laden career.

THE EARLY MARKER
96 | Kent 2nd XI v Lancashire 2nd XI, 2nd XI Championship, Canterbury, 1996

There were no academies in those days and from the age of 11 Alan Ealham always made sure I was netting above my age group. When I was 15 Alan put me in the 2nd XI and I got 90-odd against Lancashire in the first game of the year. It’s very hard when you’re 14 or 15 in an adult dressing room and it can be lonely at times. You’re out of your depth socially and most people are waiting for you to fail. It’s a big moment when you prove to those people that you can play at that level.

WINDING UP WASIM
7 & 41 | Kent v Lancashire, County Championship, Canterbury, 1998

My second first-class game was against Wasim Akram and he hit me on the head twice. I gloved him down the leg side early in my innings and didn’t walk and then he cranked it up a bit and hit me straight in the grille. I remember seeing the ball, thinking I’d got out the way of it, and then somehow he was able to swing it back in towards my head. It hit me and flew over the slips for two and two balls later he did exactly the same thing again and we ran another two. Dave Fulton was batting at the other end and had faced him in a sunhat in a Lord’s final a couple of years earlier – I was thinking he was a right prat. It would have hit me straight in the nose!

CHARGING WHITE LIGHTNING
54 | Kent v South Africans, Tour Match, Canterbury, 1998

This was my one-day debut. It was a good pitch and I remember facing Allan Donald and having that arrogance of youth and thinking I was just going to charge him, because I wasn’t expected to do that well. I remember coming at him a couple of times and thinking ‘I’ve just charged Allan Donald and hit him for four!’ But I had that complete abandon of fear because I was just happy to be playing against someone I’d watched as a kid. I hit Lance Klusener for three fours and on the third one he spat in my direction. That’s when I realised they weren’t mucking around!

FINDING FOCUS
101 | Kent v Surrey, County Championship, The Oval, 2001

We were a young batting unit – Fulton, Ed Smith, Matt Walker and myself – and under some pressure because the club had backed us and we hadn’t scored a lot of runs. I’d spent the winter in Perth working with Justin Langer’s coach Noddy Holder and started to think about my game a bit more. Until then I was just having fun but I thought I’d actually better start taking the game seriously. In the first game of the year at The Oval, Fults and myself both scored hundreds and then Walks got a ton as well and that really set us up for the year. I think all four of us went on to get 1,000 runs that season.

Key driving on debut for England

Key driving on debut for England

THE TEST BOW
17 | England v India, Second Test, Trent Bridge, 2002

I’d had a decent year but then fallen away a bit and when I got picked for my Test debut I wasn’t in the greatest form. Marcus Trescothick had broken a finger and I came in as cover. I got in at Nottingham and got a couple of 30s in the next match [at Headingley] but it was similar to when I first started at Kent; I didn’t really have much of a clue of what I was in for and Trescothick came back into the side at the end of the summer.

THE EMBER IN THE ASHES
47 & 23 | England v Australia, Third Test, Perth, 2002

We were getting beat but I actually played okay in Australia and chipped in here and there against Lee, McGrath and Warne. I played pretty well in Perth on a really quick pitch and I felt that if I could make the odd score against that Australian side then I had a chance in Test cricket. But that was part of the problem – I sort of lowered the bar a bit and was very naïve. I’d get to 30 or 40 and think ‘Right, I’m going to dominate now and play a few shots’, whereas I would have been better just making sure I batted for as long as I could. I was only 23 and still didn’t really have a clue about building an innings. I just went out there and played.

Celebrating the winning runs with Fred at Old Trafford

Celebrating the winning runs with Fred at Old Trafford

BROTHERS IN ARMS
6 & 93* | England v West Indies, Third Test, Old Trafford, 2004

I’d scored 1,000 runs by early June and I came back into the England side in good form – I’d really learnt how to be consistent. I had a great partnership with Straussy on a pretty flat pitch at Lord’s and went on to get a double hundred. That’s what I’d done that year, rather than just get a score I’d go on and on. But the more pleasing innings was at Old Trafford on a tough pitch when we were chasing down a tricky score. Freddie and myself had been really good mates through youth cricket and to win a game for England in partnership with him was probably a bigger highlight than the double ton.

WALKING IN WANDERLAND
83 & 19 | England v South Africa, Fourth Test, Johannesburg, 2005

I was left out for the first couple of Tests until Butch [Mark Butcher] got injured and I found the third Test at Newlands hard work because it was my first game since the previous summer. At the Wanderers things started to come together and Straussy and myself put on a big partnership [182] and I should have gone on and got a hundred but threw it away. I remember Freddie [Flintoff] bowling the speed of light on the final day trying to get the last few wickets and Hoggard bowled brilliantly all tour and really got what he deserved in that game. In the next match in Pretoria I got caught down the leg side, then I was lbw, and that was it for my Test career.

TWENTY20 GLORY
282 runs @ 70.50 | Twenty20 Cup Winners, 2007

No one fancied us. We’d been one of the worst Twenty20 teams going and Fordy [coach Graham Ford] and I tried to work out how we were going to play it, came up with a quick formula, and somehow it all came right. Joe [Denly] and myself tried to work out what a decent score was and got off to decent starts in nearly every game but it was a real team effort – it wasn’t superstars out-skilling people. We were playing knockout cricket from the last few games of the group stages and went into Finals Day as underdogs, but we did better than we ever thought we would.

TOE-TO-TOE WITH HARMY
261 & 20 | Kent v Durham, County Championship, Canterbury, 2010

I’d had a really bad start to the year and then got a double century against Durham on Sky, against my mate Harmy [Steve Harmison]. It’s always pleasing when you do it against the best bowlers and I’ve enjoyed playing against Durham over the years because they’ve always got the best attack. I got my first first-class ton against Steve 12 years earlier but he’s got the better of me as much as I’ve got the better of him. I generally play him by not having to play him – I get down the other end!

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