Published: 06:00, 27 May 2021
Kent all-rounder Darren Stevens was branded a freak by his team-mates after a swashbuckling innings last week.
The 45-year-old smashed an amazing 190, including 15 sixes, in 149 balls to rescue Kent from the depths of yet another batting collapse in a game that was eventually washed out by rain against Glamorgan at Canterbury.
It was the first time spectators had been allowed back to the St Lawrence ground since September 2019 due to Covid-19, and Stevens wasted no time in reminding them of his qualities. Remarkably only four other players remain from the Kent team that saw Stevens hit a double hundred against Yorkshire two years ago.
“There were a couple of words flying around like freak,” revealed Stevens. “Bilbo (Sam Billings) did a nice little speech. I’ve played a few knocks like this in the past, there’s a few young faces, newcomers to the side that have not seen me play as well and there were a few rumours flying around about how I do play so they're just really pleased to see it.
“It’s just good to see people back in. The lads said to me ‘Oh the crowds come in and you show up, don’t you!’ I’ve had six innings where I’ve not really got any runs. I got fifty at lunch and was just starting to feel okay, to get 190 was remarkable really.”
Kent were 92-7 on day two against Glamorgan but Stevens went on to dominate a partnership of 166 for the ninth wicket with Miguel Cummins, to which the latter contributed a single and Stevens 160.
Typically, Stevens was downplaying his efforts - “it was good fun” he understated. A modest, humble cricketer, his longevity is remarkable. Umpire James Middlebrook stood in the game - a man who enjoyed a more than respectable 17-year first-class career. Yet Middlebrook made his debut a year after Stevens and is 13 months his junior.
When Stevens was awarded his Kent benefit for 2016, it appeared to signal the beginning of the end as he entered his forties. Now, we don’t even know when the end will be – and few want it to come any time soon.
He has hit six more first-class centuries since 2016, bringing his career tally to 36 – his latest ton means he is the oldest player to score a first-class century since Chris Balderstone for Leicestershire in 1986.
Two years ago, that game at Yorkshire saw Stevens become the second oldest player to score 200 and take five wickets in an innings in a first-class match after WG Grace. He scored nine sixes in that 237, hitting 17 sixes in the summer. Fast-forward to 2021, and Stevens hit 15 sixes against Glamorgan alone.
“It wasn’t about what shots stood out,” he said. “We were in a tough situation and all I was worried about was trying to hit a boundary in the first three balls and then get off strike.
“If I bat normally, I might get a good ball and get out, If I counter attack and put them under pressure by playing a few shots, then the pressure goes back on them rather than us. That’s how I looked at it.
“I was smart, I tried to use the wind as much as I could because it was tough out there. I tried to use it to our advantage. As long as I got it aerial and high I thought the wind would take it.”
Stevens had produced six single-digit scores with the bat prior to his heroics at Canterbury – a run he attributes to a hamstring injury which he was able to rest in the build-up to the game.
“It's been tough,” he conceded. “I’ve had a bit of a niggle, it’s been a bit of a pain in my left hamstring so I’ve been struggling to get forward but since the Sussex game I’ve had a good four or five days off when I’ve not done anything and I’ve rested it a little bit, so I felt a little bit better yesterday in the nets. I got here early had a good hit this morning and felt great. It’s been a bit frustrating getting out cheaply in the last couple of weeks but I feel that’s got me going again now.”
Operating on year-to-year deals, Stevens’ heroics at Headingley in 2019 helped persuade the hierarchy that he should be offered a new contract after initially being told he was being released. He’s making sure that there is only one decision that can be made this time around. Surely, the contract will be ready and waiting when Stevens wants it later this summer.