Sam Billings bats against the West Indies tourists © Getty Images
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 current 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 Division One counties with Nottinghamshire and Hampshire leading the way.
Notts missed out on Keaton Jennings, who joined Lancashire, and have batting places to fill on their return to Division One 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.
“I am incredibly proud and honoured to have been offered the Kent captaincy. It means a lot personally as I have been involved at Kent since I was eight years of age,” Billings said. “We have a very talented group of players and I am really looking forward to working with all the players and the coaching staff to help take the club forward. It will be challenging but I am very excited by the opportunity.”
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.
Sam Northeast’s Kent future is in doubt © Getty Images
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.
It is possible that Northeast might have struggled to adjust to an incoming director of cricket – he had a wide-ranging role as Kent captain in the absence of such a post – but his departure could cause a few headaches for Downton, who pipped Dave Fulton, the former Kent opener and Sky TV cricket reporter, for the role.
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 Division One 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.
*12.45pmGMT, January 17: This story was updated with confirmation of Billings’ appointment
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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