Cricket: Kent to sit down with Stevens over contract
PUBLISHED: 08:30 20 September 2019
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Kent will sit down to hold contract talks with their evergreen all-rounder Darren Stevens in the latest twist to the 43-year-old's remarkable career.
At the low-point of Stevens's 2019 season in late July - the veteran had been dropped from Spitfires' Vitality Blast squad and allowed out on loan to Derbyshire - Kent announced that the club legend was to be released at the season's end.
Citing his age, his seemingly fading abilities with the bat and a perceived inability to take wickets with an older ball, Kent said that it was time to move on.
"All good things must come to an end", they said.
Stevens, however, had other ideas. After playing a minor role in Derbyshire's run to the Vitality Blast Finals Day, the Hinckley-born player returned to his adoptive Kent to re-write his own record book and force the county into a re-think - a volte-face that has delighted Stevens's adoring fans.
The script re-write started in his 301st first-class game at Trent Bridge, where Stevens hit a precious 88 off 90 balls in Kent's faltering first innings.
He went on to claim match figures of 10-92 that swept Kent to a 227-run, three-day win over Nottinghamshire that secured top-flight championship cricket for 2020.
Stevens snared Steven Mullaney leg before for his 500th first-class wicket, then followed it with the scalp of Paul Coughlin in the second innings for his 500th first-class scalp for the county - quite something given that he only started bowling regularly past his 30th birthday.
"500 has a nice ring to it and it's a big achievement when I thought I'd struggle to get 50 wickets, let alone 500," said Stevens, who is the first Kent bowler since Min Patel (1989-2007) to reach the milestone.
"500 for Kent felt pretty special because I didn't really start bowling properly until 2007. I had ankle surgery before the start of my first season at Canterbury and only got about 17 wickets that year.
"So, it wasn't until around 2008 when Rob Key gave me a new ball, I think it was up north somewhere and, when I got four cheap wickets 'Keysy' thought: 'I might be on to something here'. My bowling went from strength to strength thereafter."
Stevens continued to defy his age this week at Headingley, rescuing Kent's first innings with a career-best 237 off 224 balls with 28 fours and nine sixes in a record sixth-wicket stand worth 346 with Sam Billings (138) that turned the opening day on its head.
Stevens' instinctive reaction to his third, career double ton, to kiss the Invicta badge on his Kent sweater.
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"We were in trouble at 39-5 with myself and Sam (Billings) on nought," he added. "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 and my intent was up. Any bit of width or anything full, I was putting my hands through it.
"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. They're a good bowling line-up, and we were 39-5."
Stevens went on to finish with seven wickets in the match as Kent won by a whopping 433-run margin, breaking more records along the way.
And, welcoming the club's announcement to re-visit contract negotiations, Stevens said: "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 at some point, but at the minute it's not that time. I'd love to stay. I don't want to move away from Kent. So, let's see.
"In fairness to Kent, I asked for a final answer from them two months ago, which was only right, because I felt I needed time to make a decision as to whether I'd carry on, maybe take time to speak with other clubs or figure out if I was going to go down the coaching route."
Now happily back among the runs and wicket, Stevens admits that his return to form with the bat has been crucial to his bid to extend his remarkable career.
"The runs meant much more to me, massively so," he conceded. "The way I've played in the last couple of seasons has been frustrating.
"The wickets we played on in Division Two didn't really help my style of batting and you're fighting yourself all the time thinking 'what's going on and what's going wrong?'
"The week before [the Nottinghamshire game] I went and did some work in the nets with a mate of mine. I felt I needed different eyes on me to see what was going on with my batting. I walked out of that session after two hours feeling a million dollars, so putting the hard work in has helped."
Kent have also announced that former seam-bowler Simon Cook will be re-joining the county as their new bowling coach.
Oxford-born Cook started his career at Middlesex before joining Kent in 2005. Now 42, he made 236 appearances for Kent between 2005 and 2012, taking 362 wickets across all formats at an average of 29.27.
Awarded his Kent County Cap (number 202) in 2007, Cook played in that season's Twenty20 Cup winning side and completed his ECB Level 4 coaching certificate whilst on the staff.
After retirement, he coached at Hong Kong Cricket Club and, in 2014, joined the Hong Kong national team as a specialist bowling coach. Cook will take up his role in October, replacing Allan Donald.