County Championship 2021 – Ageless Darren Stevens gives Canterbury’s crowd a freak-show to remember
Veteran allrounder dedicates 190 to late father as he turns on the style
Darren Stevens, Kent’s veteran crowd-pleaser, revealed how his Kent team-mates joked about how he had waited for spectators to return before ending a lean run of form to play one of the finest innings of his 25-year county career.
Stevens, whose 190 from 149 balls against Glamorgan made him the oldest man, at 45 years and 21 days, to hit a first-class century in England for 35 years, also admitted that the memory of his late father, who died last year of a Covid-related illness, had still affected him during games this season.
On a week when limited numbers of spectators have been allowed into county grounds, Stevens said: “It was good just to get bums on seats, it feels like a proper game now, whereas the last year or so, I know they’ve been first class games but it’s not felt the same, it’s felt a little bit like a pre-season game.
“The lads said to me ‘Oh, the crowds come in and you show up, don’t you!’ I’ve had six, eight innings where I’ve not really got any runs. To get 190 is just remarkable really and I’m just pleased I’ve got us into a good situation.”
Kent were 128 for 8 on a day when gusts of winds touched 50kph but Stevens’ assault took them to 307 and it was enough for their captain, Sam Billings, to make a speech after the day’s play about his impact upon the county’s cricket.
“There were a couple of words flying around like ‘freak’,” he said. “It’s nice. ‘Bilbo’ has just done a nice little speech. I’ve played a few knocks like this, 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 and I’m pleased to perform and get us in a great position.”
Stevens expanded more about his tactics as he bludgeoned 15 sixes – one below the all-time English first-class record – and 15 fours in a ninth-wicket stand of 166. His batting partner, the West Indian Miguel Cummins, blocked for 1 from 55 balls in that time, but helped himself to a cathartic pulled four after Stevens’ dismissal to finish with 7 from 61.
“We were in a tough situation,” Stevens said. “We got into a bit of a routine, a bit of a rhythm, it actually worked quite well for a few overs and I’ve probably got us into quite a good situation. 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, I thought the wind would take it with it when I was batting at the Pavilion End. When I was at the Nackington Road End it was a little bit different because they were bowling wider. I played one when I tried to flick it leg side and I got dropped at slip, I think, and then I thought about hitting the sight-screen and I thought if I can hit the sight-screen and they come straighter then fine. It was a game of two halves really.”
Stevens, although one of the most committed trainers around, accepts that occasional injuries are part and parcel of his career in his mid-40s.
“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.”
Stevens’ father died in a care-home last summer, and the memory has stayed with him. “The old man, I’ll tell you, I don’t shy away from stuff like this… like the game up at Northants, I got pretty emotional, I had to pull out a few times.
“You know I miss him, we all miss him, having a bench down here and having a coffee with him every morning, but yeah he’s looking down on me and he will be for a long time.”
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps