Rob Key © Getty Images
Rob Key scored a crucial 87 © Getty Images

Canterbury: Former England batsman Rob Key has said playing against Australia on a belting batting pitch at Canterbury was the best possible learning experience for a youthful Kent side.

Kent, without an overseas player this season, are currently bottom of the Second Division of the County Championship. And they were made to work hard in the field as Australia piled up 507 for eight declared in the first innings of their Ashes tour opener, including hundreds from Shaun Marsh (114) and former Kent 2nd XI player Steven Smith — now ranked as the world’s best Test batsman — who made 111.

But there were some successes for Kent too, with 21-year-old fast-medium bowler Matt Hunn, in only his fourth first-class match, taking five for 99 — his maiden five-wicket haul. Key said the state of the Canterbury pitch was in marked contrast to that of many Championship surfaces, which he argued were not preparing players properly for international cricket and retarding the progress of young English spinners.

“For our lads, this is as good as it gets,” Key told reporters after Friday’s second day of four. “We do not play enough cricket on surfaces like that. For people like Matt Hunn and Ivan Thomas, to play against proper batters on a proper wicket they will have developed more in these last two days than they have done probably for the whole season in county cricket,” added the 36-year-old batsman, who played the last of his 15 Tests for England in 2005.

“We wonder why there are no spinners in English cricket, it’s because we’re playing on poor wickets,” insisted Key, who said the fact that a number of four-day Championship matches were ending early was an indication of low-grade pitches. “There are so many three-day games now,” he said. “I just believe if you play on pitches like that (the one at Canterbury) you will find (international standard) bowlers and batters. Yorkshire (the county champions) are doing so well, but they play on the best wicket (Headingley) in the country,” said Key of a team coached by former Australia fast bowler Jason Gillespie. “The Aussies have had a good work-out but our lads have learnt more than anyone.”

Key rolled back the years with a fluent innings of 87 as Kent reached stumps on 203 for five. He looked on course for a century as he struck consecutive fours off Fawad Ahmed, only to fall to the leg-spinner with an ungainly slog to mid-wicket. “I have a theory that against that sort of bowling attack you have to score,” said Key.

“You’ve got Mitchell Johnson at one end and (Ryan) Harris and (Peter) Siddle who just don’t bowl bad balls, so when a leg-spinner comes on I have to have a go at him. I’m gutted to get out, it would have been nice to get a hundred but you live and die by the way you go about it and that’s what happens.” Australia begin their defence of the Ashes with the first Test against England in Cardiff starting on July 8.