Cricket: Kent stalwart Stevens stuns Yorkshire with career-best 237
PUBLISHED: 18:25 16 September 2019 | UPDATED: 07:15 17 September 2019
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Darren Stevens continued his bid for a new Kent contract with a quite remarkable career best 237 to help steer the visitors out of early trouble at 39-5 on day one against Yorkshire at Headingley.
Kent's top order, including South Africa captain Francois du Plessis, was shattered by the pace of Duanne Olivier with the new ball at the start of this battle for third place in the Specsavers County Championship Division One.
A Test team-mate of du Plessis' up until the start of the year, Olivier struck four times in a seven-over burst, only for Kent to close on 482-8 from 96 overs.
Stevens, 43, united with captain and fellow centurion Sam Billings, shared 346 inside 65 overs from mid-morning to mid-evening to change the complexion of this fixture in record-breaking fashion with 28 fours and nine sixes in 225 balls.
Billings, 138 off 209, justified his own decision to first of all opt for a toss and then elect to bat with his second successive century of the summer in his third four-day game.
Belligerent Stevens was told in July that Kent would not be offering him a new contract after 15 years with them.
But last week they hinted at a U-turn following 10 wickets in the match and a first-innings 88 in the win over Nottinghamshire. This was his first 100-plus score since May 2017.
Yorkshire made a racing start courtesy of their marquee signing last winter, Olivier, in conditions which were good for batting but helpful for bowlers at 10.30am.
He picked up the prized wicket of former colleague du Plessis, debuting for Kent in red ball cricket after a short spell in T20 cricket last month.
Du Plessis, warming up for a Test series in India next month, was bowled through the gate by an in-ducker as the score fell to eight for three in the fifth over.
Earlier, in the third, Oliver trapped Zak Crawley lbw and had Ollie Robinson caught behind as both men attempted to leave alone.
Olivier's fourth wicket - another compatriot Heino Kuhn, trapped lbw playing forwards - came after Daniel Bell-Drummond lost his off stump to one which kept low from Matthew Fisher in the eighth over to make it 22-4.
From there, Billings, who reached his hundred off 157 balls, and Stevens steadied the ship confidently, with the latter particularly positive as confidence grew.
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He successfully hit over the top on the off-side on a couple of occasions before launching debutant New Zealand left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel (1-119 from 15 overs) for a straight six to reach a 59-ball fifty in the final over before lunch.
Stevens also clipped Steve Patterson for six over mid-wicket shortly after lunch and hit Patel for another in the same area on the way to a 129-ball century.
Not without luck, he went from 51 to 191 in an afternoon session which yielded 204 runs in 36 overs. He offered a number of difficult chances, although on 149 offered an easy chance to Olivier off Fisher at mid-on.
The majority of Stevens' sixes came off Patel before holing out to the Kiwi to make it 385-6 in the 75th over.
The Stevens and Billings alliance was a Kent record sixth-wicket partnership and the highest ever for that wicket on this ground. It was also the highest partnership for any wicket in Championship cricket this season.
Billings was caught in the gully off Olivier (5-108 from 24 overs) late in the day, while Fisher also struck again.
Stevens said: "The big thing was we were in trouble at 39-5 with myself and Sam (Billings) on nought.
"It was a tough situation, but at 10.30am at Headingley it's going to nibble around a bit.
"When I came in, I just said, 'I'm going to be positive - run hard, try and get off strike, tick it over'. That was it really. We were in serious strife.
"My intent was up. Any bit of width or anything full, I was putting my hands through it. I don't know what else to say really.
"When you're in situations like that, it's a case of, 'Let's try and get to 150, to 180, then to 200'. But it kept going."
As for his previous best of 208 showing on his Twitter handle, he added: "I'm going to have to change it, but I'll deal with that in time.
"It hasn't sunk in yet. It's just the situation of the game. They're a good bowling line-up, and we were 39 for five. We've done our job to get us in a good position.
"There could be a case for declaring because it's nipped around in the morning, but I reckon we'll keep batting.
"I'm loving playing and want to play for another year. My body's good, I'm bowling my overs and getting my runs now, and I want to keep playing. Yes, it will come to an end, but at the minute it's not that time. I'd love to stay. I don't want to move away from Kent. Let's see."