DateLine: 8th May 2009
Cherry-cheeked Kent batsman Robert Key had been marked down for great things - not least by headline-writers spotting an easy pun a mile off - since he helped England win the Under-19 World Cup in South Africa early in 1998. His trademark shot is a back-foot biff through the covers, while his off-drive on the front foot pleases the purists too. For a while his waistline expanded along with his burgeoning batting reputation, and he was 16 stone and counting before Alec Stewart had a quiet word. Over 1000 runs for Kent in 2001 were followed by a winter under Rod Marsh at the Academy in Adelaide. Key came back even leaner and hungrier, and more runs propelled him past Ian Bell - previously touted as the Next Big Thing - into the England side after Marcus Trescothick's broken thumb and Graham Thorpe's broken heart created a vacancy or two. A couple of gutsy innings followed in Australia, although he displayed a worrying propensity for getting out when seemingly set, especially just after a break in play. But in 2004, he burst back into the limelight, scoring 1000 first-class runs by the second day of June, and cracking a magnificent 221 against West Indies at Lord's, in his first Test appearance for over a year. The jury, however, was still out after a hit-and-miss winter in South Africa in 2004-05, when his culpable shot-selection in defeat at Cape Town was offset by an important half-century in the series-clinching victory at Johannesburg. He was appointed Kent's captain for the 2006 season, a role he took on "to enhance, not hamper" his career, and as captain of the England A team that took on the Sri Lankan and Pakistani tourists, it was clear he remained in the selectors' thoughts. This was confirmed when he was named in the Academy squad to be based in Perth during the winter's Ashes series, and in 2007 his one-day game, a self-confessed weakness, came to fruition as he led Kent to a memorable Twenty20 Cup triumph at Edgbaston. Come the 2008 season he was champing at the bit for a Test recall, as demonstrated by an unbeaten 178 for Kent against the New Zealand tourists, a performance that earned him the captaincy of the England Lions.