English County Cricket – Kent’s ageless cult hero Darren Stevens will end his career

Time seems to have caught up with Darren Stevens, whose 17 years with Kent will end at the end of the season at the age of 46.

But what is it ? Surely not a hint that there might be a final season in the tank? He doesn’t feel like retiring yet if he can help it, and his farewell message to Kent supporters certainly prompted the thought. “I’m looking forward to the next chapter but looking back I’m very proud of the one I just finished. Stevo x”.

Kent manager of cricket Paul Downton said it was “unthinkable” that a player with Stevens’ talents – he is also renowned for his hard work – had never played for England. Stevens’ final seasons in county cricket took quite a turn. Last year he became the oldest player ever to be named Wisden Cricketer of the Year, a fitting recognition of his 26-year professional career.

But there has also been indignity, as he has become an unwitting symbol of the flaws of red-ball cricket on the English professional circuit, all because of his longstanding mastery at exposing county hitting techniques on the green sewing grounds. For a player who respects and loves the game so much, such a journalistic shortcut was unfortunate.

Stevens has been a cult hero in Kent. His mid-order batting could change the face of games that seemed lost, and his medium-paced bowling, which developed in the second phase of his career – and which these days comes at around 70 mph – could wreak havoc if conditions were favorable.

For Kent alone, he played over 630 matches in all formats, with over 28,000 carries and nearly 900 wickets to his name.

Rob Key, now the ECB’s managing director for England men’s cricket, was captain of Kent when he kicked the new ball to Stevens and changed his career forever. His 31 five-wicket runs in first-class cricket came after his 35th birthday, an extraordinary feat.

“His numbers are remarkable in the modern era which, together with his ability to influence and win games, makes him a true Kent legend. It is unthinkable that a player of his talent has never been selected to play international cricket”

Paul Downton, Kent Cricket Manager

He had joined County as a specialist batsman and had to wait until the age of 43 for his first hat-trick. When he came it was in the low-key circumstances of a Second XI game between Kent and Somerset at Taunton Vale.

Few of his 43 centuries will live on in memory more than his career-best 237 from 225 deliveries against Yorkshire in 2019. Kent, unsure whether to re-sign him, opened contract talks before the sweat of her pads don’t dry out.

There was another extraordinary effort against Glamorgan in 2021, when he became the oldest player to reach a Championship cent for 35 years, and dedicated the rounds to his father, who died of Covid-19. By then County cricket was enjoying live streaming, and messages that ‘Stevo’ was there again flew far beyond Kent to all parts of the country.

Against the white ball, Stevens also played a pivotal role in the Kent Spitfires’ successful T20 teams, winning the ECB National T20 Trophy in 2007 and 2021, 14 years apart.

“It’s bittersweet that my time at Kent has finally come to an end after such a long run and where I’m so proud to have lived my childhood dream with such a phenomenal club,” he said. “The memories will stay with me forever.

“There are so many people to thank who have helped me stay here, David Fulton and Simon Willis for giving me the opportunity to represent the club in 2005. Keysie [Rob Key] for giving me the new ball and starting my bowling career. All of my teammates over the years and Kent employees who have helped me in different ways.

“Last but not least the fans. How you have stuck by me over the years – celebrating my highs and supporting me in my lows, your support has been overwhelming and something I will always be grateful for, so thank you. “

Downton said: “Darren Stevens has been an inspirational cricketer for the past 25 years. His ability to time a cricket shot and his subtle skill with the ball have made him a crowd favorite wherever he has played. His numbers are remarkable in the modern era, which, along with his ability to influence and win games, make him a true Kent legend.

“It is unthinkable that a player of his talent has never been selected to play international cricket.”

Flatter county pitches this season – instructed by the ECB to look more like test surfaces – and a succession of injuries have made life difficult for Stevens this summer. He took just six wickets at an average of 75 in six matches, a stark contrast to the previous five seasons when his wickets cost less than 20 apiece.

Kent have already named Joey Evison, signed from Nottinghamshire, as a replacement. Evison is 20 years old and very promising. By a quick reckoning, he only needs 26 years of clean sessions, solo training and crowd-pleasing, match-turning exploits to rival the qualities of a cricketer extraordinaire.

David Hopps writes about county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

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