The county of Kent may have been the birthplace of cricket and it was certainly one of the sport's earliest centres of excellence. Teams representing Kent were raised by many patrons through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries until the foundation of the first Kent County Cricket Club (Kent CCC) in 1842. A second club was founded in 1859 and the two co-operated to some extent until 1870 when, under the leadership of Lord Harris, they were merged to create the modern version of the county club. Kent CCC were founder members of the official County Cricket Championship in 1890.
Kent have won the County Championship six times (one shared). They were most successful in the early years of the twentieth century and again in the 1970s. The team has won ten national limited overs competitions and also one Twenty20 Cup. There have been many famous Kent cricketers beginning with William Bedle in the early eighteenth century and including Fuller Pilch, Alfred Mynn, Colin Blythe, Frank Woolley, Les Ames, Tich Freeman, Godfrey Evans, Colin Cowdrey, Alan Knott and Derek Underwood.
The most widely accepted theory on the origin of cricket is that it developed among the farming and metalworking communities of the Weald, which spreads across the counties Kent and Sussex in southeast England. By the end of the sixteenth century, cricket was established as a children's game in those counties and in neighbouring Surrey, where the first definite reference to the sport occurs in 1597. A few years later, there is evidence of the game being played by working men and the earliest known organised match took place about 1610 at Chevening in Kent between two local teams called Weald & Upland and Chalkhill. There are scattered mentions of cricket in Kent through the seventeenth century, mainly in court records about people who were fined for "breaking the Sabbath" by playing the game on a Sunday instead of being good little Puritans.
Cricket became a national sport through the eighteenth century and, with freedom of the press since 1695 when Parliament decided not to renew the Licensing of the Press Act 1662, media coverage steadily increased. In 1705, there was a match at a place mysteriously recorded as "Maulden" between West Kent and Chatham. This was almost certainly a local match between two village teams, depending on what "West Kent" actually represented. A more significant match, in terms of its title, took place at Dartford Brent on Wednesday, 29 June 1709. The teams in this were called Kent and Surrey. On the face of it, this was the earliest known inter-county match but it is probably more accurate to say it was the earliest known match between teams bearing the names of counties. The stake was £50, a huge amount at the time, and the event was described in a newspaper as "a famous match of Cricket at Dartford Brimpth (sic)".
We can never know if the 1709 match was really an inter-county one or if, as does seem more likely, it was between two village teams which came from different counties. Given the difficulties of travel at that time, it is unlikely that either team represented its whole county. The nucleus of the Kent team was surely Dartford, given the venue, and it is equally likely that their opponents were mostly drawn from a single Surrey parish. It was perhaps not until the 1720s or 1730s that county teams began to be truly representative of their counties but, given the use of county names, surely more than one parish was represented by each team. One player who probably took part in the match was William Bedle (1679–1768), of Dartford Cricket Club, who is the earliest great player to have been recorded. He was reckoned to be "the most expert player in England" and must have been in his prime from about 1700 to the 1720s.
- Underdown, p. 4.
- Bowen, p. 262.
- Maun, p. 7.
- Buckley, FLPVC, p. 1.
- Buckley, FL18C, p. 48.
- Bowen, p. 48.
- Bowen, Rowland: Cricket: A History of its Growth and Development. Eyre & Spottiswoode (1970).
- Buckley, G. B.: Fresh Light on 18th Century Cricket (FL18C). Cotterell (1935).
- Buckley, G. B.: Fresh Light on Pre-Victorian Cricket (FLPVC). Cotterell (1937).
- Maun, Ian: From Commons to Lord's, Volume One: 1700 to 1750. Roger Heavens (2009).
- Underdown, David: Start of Play. Allen Lane. (2000).