SAM DALLING: The Kent allrounder is a phenomenon. A not too long ago agreed new deal will take him into his 46th yr. Sam Billings, Joe Denly, Vince Wells, Azhar Mahmood, Paul Nixon and Daniel Bell-Drummond amongst others describe a one-off teammate
For those who actually are solely pretty much as good as your final recreation, Darren Stevens has been bloody good for the very best a part of 20 years now.
With 27,000 runs to his title and a profession haul of 800 wickets it’s straightforward to see why, in accordance with Joe Denly, “the lads are calling him the GOAT.”
The sands of time may be towards him however the evergreen allrounder continues to defy the percentages.
On this summer time’s proof, he would be the first title on the workforce sheet in 2021 after penning a contract extension final month. Remarkably, his keep at Kent will prolong past his 45th birthday.
“He’s Peter Pan,” former teammate and shut pal Paul Nixon places it.
“For those who’re 44 and doing the identical factor as a 26-year-old you’re most likely not going to have a job in cricket,” says Kent opener Daniel Bell-Drummond.
“That’s how good he’s been; he’s been higher than anybody else. That’s essentially the most outstanding factor. There’s no means he’s on the wane – he’s nonetheless on the peak of his powers with the ball.”
And as England batsman Sam Billings says: “He’s a 44-year-old turning 26. His numbers in each disciplines are phenomenal. The most important lesson is you don’t need to be the entire cricketer by the point you’re 30.”
Stevens began his profession at boyhood membership Leicestershire. His first-class bow got here in 1997 towards Cambridge College nevertheless it took some time for him to grow to be established in what was a powerful outfit at that time.
His status preceded him. Darren Maddy’s outdated man had tipped him off that Stevens was coming by way of the ranks and Vince Wells, skipper of the county on the time, noticed they teenager’s potential first-hand.
“I went in to do some teaching within the winter at a college and he so pure, even on the age of 16. He hit the ball so cleanly. As a coach you’d have two or three appears and suppose who is that this younger lad?”
Over an eight-year spell Stevens pulled on the Leicester jersey over 200 instances. He was purely a batsman at that time and whereas there have been flashes of brilliance, consistency eluded him. That’s simply how he performed.
“At Northampton he was taking part in superbly however then the spinners got here on,” Wells remembers. “They put a person again and he hit it straight down deep mid-wicket’s throat.
“Jack Birkenshaw and I sat down and defined it’s tougher for the opposite gamers coming with the spinners bowling if he provides his wicket away; he did the identical factor second innings!”
Arguably his best hour for the membership got here at Arundel towards Sussex in 1999. Opening the batting he made a good looking 130 – his maiden first-class ton. The good Colin Cowdrey was there to witness the knock and lots of consider it was the catalyst for Stevens’ future transfer to Kent.
Stevens’ new contract will take him into 2021 and his 46th yr
It ought to have been the sliding doorways second. However it wasn’t to be. As Maddy places it: “He lastly made his means into the workforce and we anticipated greater issues. Sadly, it didn’t fairly work out as deliberate.”
His returns weren’t terrible however a trainer may need scrawled “should do higher” on a college report. And regardless of profitable the Twenty20 Cup in 2004 his time at Leicestershire was completed. Devastated, Stevens turned to former teammate and buddy Neil Burns for steerage.
“Darren had excellent presents however sadly for him grew to become a little bit of a luxurious participant at Leicestershire. When he was launched he rang me up; he was devasted,” he explains.
“I put it to him there have been 3 ways to go; do one thing else with life and play cricket for enjoyable – that’s what he’d been doing actually, go someplace else and proceed what you’ve been doing or go on a journey of self-discovery and see how good you could be.
“We went again to highschool. Slowly however absolutely he grew to become an expert cricketer somewhat than a gifted cricketer who was being paid.”
The pair wrote to nearly all of counties providing Stevens’ companies. Solely David Fulton at Kent confirmed an curiosity. The remainder, as they are saying, is historical past.
From the second Stevens joined Kent forward of the 2005 season, issues clicked. In his first marketing campaign he notched up 1,277 first-class runs at a shade underneath 50.
Hero standing achieved immediately. He’s since handed the milestone twice since and has 30 first-class lots of for the county. Matt Walker, now in cost at Kent, was on the taking part in employees at that time.
“I keep in mind he turned up right here for Leicestershire on this vivid pink Audi TT with a horrible mullet, and considering: ‘That is the child they’re speaking about.’”
Earlier than lengthy they have been out within the center collectively.
“I batted lots with Darren. I’d be battling away on 40 or 50 and he’d are available and his off the mark shot could be the very best of the day.
“At his peak with the bat he was devastating in one-day cricket. He may flip a recreation on its head in 10 overs – he was that good.”
That white-ball prowess helped the county triumph within the 2007 Twenty20 Cup remaining over Surrey. Simon Cook dinner joined at across the identical time as Stevens and remembers that night time at Edgbaston fondly.
“He hit the profitable runs and needed to go off for medicine testing,” he says. “He got here again a few hours later in nonetheless in his pads. We’d had a number of Coca Colas by then and when he obtained onto the bus again to the lodge he was nonetheless in his pads! Even within the bar within the lodge nonetheless in his pads!”
Stevens was a key element of a facet that dominated home one-day cricket for the subsequent few years.
So too was Pakistan star Azhar Mahmood who remembers Stevens as an innovator. “After we batted, he used to inform me which means the wind was blowing so we may goal that facet. I stated: ‘Darren, I don’t care concerning the wind. I simply must smite the ball.’
“He was a large striker and I stated why are you wanting on the wind, you’ll be able to clear the rope anyway. Then I began taking part in golf with him and realised he was saying the fitting factor.”
With out fail, Stevens’ teammates previous and current discuss of how superbly easy he makes the sport look. Whether or not with bat or ball, they’re all left scratching their heads as to how he does it.
Hampshire man Sam Northeast performed alongside Stevens for nearly a decade and describes his former teammate as a “freak,” including: “He hits a cricket ball unbelievably properly.”
“He had that aesthetically pleasing means and elegance about him that made it look straightforward. It’s been known as Gower-esque,” explains Maddy.
“I used to be in awe of his potential. He discovered the gaps so merely and he had such a pure outlook,” provides Burns.
Wells displays: “Whether or not he scores 20, 25, 50, 75 or 100, all of them look fairly good. Even when he wasn’t scoring runs, he by no means regarded out of shape. If he solely obtained eight, they’d be two great-looking fours.”
And as Walker says: “The ability, the ability the relaxed nature – it simply appeared he was having nice enjoyable on the crease when mortals like myself have been having to struggle bloomin’ arduous to get the runs.”
Josh Breed skippers Claremont CC in Cape City, the place Stevens spent a number of years as a professional. Laughing, he remembers batting with the Englishman. “I’ll be scratching round and he’ll hit a few bombs,” he chuckles. “I’ll ask him how and he explains it so merely. Stevo, it’s not that straightforward for all of us!”
It was the identical along with his bowling. Charlie Hartley was at Kent between 2014 and 2017 and recalled a time his senior teammate tried to present him some pointers. “He stated: ‘Mate, simply do that,’ and I stated: ‘I can’t Darren, I’m inferior to you – it doesn’t work like that for everybody else. I can’t simply rock up and do what you do!’”
And Jason Gillespie, who is aware of a factor or two about seam bowling, believes the veteran “has proven that in the event you current the seam and problem the entrance foot defence in championship cricket you could be profitable no matter tempo.” Easy as that.
The allrounder has taken 820 skilled wickets
It’s straightforward to overlook that Stevens hardly obtained a look-in with the ball for years.
“He was a web bowler who’d come fiddle round bowling away swing,” remembers Maddy. “He wasn’t significantly constant and folks didn’t take him too significantly however he saved persevering.”
Even following his transfer south, alternatives remained restricted. His first 14 seasons as a professional yielded a meagre 94 first-class wickets.
Then in April 2011 – whereas in his mid-30s – the celebrities aligned. Kent have been wanting frontline bowlers and Rob Key knowledgeable Stevens he was on new ball obligation for the primary recreation of the season. Essex have been the opponents at Chelmsford.
Sir Alastair Cook dinner opened up and was in every kind of bother. When the England opener fell for six, caught behind by Geraint Jones, the floodgates opened. Six for sixty; a maiden five-wicket haul. He’s by no means regarded again, choosing up no fewer than 450 victims since within the first-class recreation.
It may need been so completely different: “Within the first yr he was right here, he stated he was going to bowl off-spin and spent pre-season doing that,” explains Walker.
Thankfully for Kent, it didn’t final lengthy. The swap to medium tempo got here and the remaining, as they are saying, was historical past. The story goes that even the good Kumar Sangakkara discovered him arduous to take care of at Beckenham. It won’t appear like a lot however appears could be deceiving.
“It’s not too taxing – he simply ambles as much as the crease,” says Denly. “Just a few years in the past, I checked out him and although it may possibly’t be that arduous, I’ll have a chunk of this and bowl a number of seamers. Yeah, it’s not that straightforward.
“I’m certain there are various that have a look at his bowling and suppose: ‘How are you going to not get runs towards that?’ He’s a genius. He’s completely phenomenal with the pink ball.”
“It’s essentially the most horrendous factor to face on this planet. Any form of lateral motion within the pitch, he’ll discover it,” provides Billings.
Nottinghamshire opener Chris Nash is a detailed buddy of Stevens and explains: “I’ve obtained to maintain him shut in any other case he’s obtained an excessive amount of on me; what he does is wonderful.
“Individuals use his title rather a lot as a result of he’s a medium-pace English seamer however he deserves much more credit score than he will get. He’s obtained as a lot ability as anybody who bowls all over the world.”
Gillespie, who arrived at Kent for a brief stint as coach again in 2007, was initially sceptical about Stevens’ potential to chop the mustard within the prime tier. He quickly noticed the sunshine.
“When Dizzy got here in he stated to me: ‘You’ve obtained to seek out another person to open – it’s not going to occur in Division One for Stevo”,” Northeast remembers.
“After two weeks he’d utterly modified his thoughts and thought Stevo was essentially the most skilful bowler he’d ever seen. He took again every part he stated.”
A hostile spell of quick bowling will get the juices flowing. A little bit of chin music. It’s the stuff of nightmares for batsmen. People are conditioned to react to hazard. There’s one thing sadomasochistic about it. However Steven’s evokes concern of a special type.
The chilly sweats of his opponents aren’t over evading 90mph bouncers. No, it’s the potential embarrassment that raises the nervousness ranges. They know what’s coming. They simply can’t do something about it.
“He has that potential to make you’re feeling completely ineffective,” says Nash. “He preys on that – he is aware of for each ball he bowls you can most likely play 5 or 6 pictures however you play a shot and also you miss it or nick it. He stands on the finish of his mark, waddles in and it hits the pitch and features a few yards.
“He’s obtained so many individuals in his pocket. I depend myself very proudly to have been there many instances. I do know I’m going to get a replay of my dismissal despatched to me on WhatsApp at 6.05 that night.”
Denly agrees: “Quite a lot of the chat across the counties is about how you can face him; what can we do towards Stevo?
“He provides a variety of batters nightmares and a variety of sleepless nights. It’s nothing to do with tempo; simply pure full mastery of his work.”
A person with Stevens’ tempo – or lack thereof – could be problematic for the wicketkeeper: too far again as a gloveman and edges received’t carry; step as much as the stumps and the hazard is the ball will transfer a lot you look silly.
“In red-ball, it was tough – he nonetheless nips it round,” admits Billings.
“You need to stand again however you’re so near the stumps you’d somewhat rise up. You’re in no man’s land as a result of the nicks come so quick and low.”
Then once more, it’s by no means boring, as Ollie Robinson explains. “He’s good to maintain to as you’re all the time within the recreation with him.
“Both facet of the bat – you’ve simply obtained to react to what he does. He is aware of precisely what he’s doing and has all of the tips. My job is to react to what he does. You possibly can sort of see his plans and get a really feel for what he’s making an attempt to do however you’ll be able to by no means fairly predict.”
With such potential to maneuver the ball within the air, does Stevens assist out his wicketkeeper?
“Completely not,” laughs Billings. “He finds it fairly humorous in the event you go the opposite means. You’ve simply obtained to get one thing on it. With somebody like him you’re all the time within the recreation.”
Life’s too brief to do issues that aren’t pleasant. Discover a ardour and run with it. Love shines by way of. It’s straightforward to inform those that are going by way of the motions.
Stevens’ affinity for the sport is as pure as it’s sturdy. He’s infatuated. He desires to be within the center scoring runs or taking wickets for Kent. Nothing extra, nothing much less.
The county’s younger wicketkeeper batsman Ollie Robinson is in awe of the person. “He completely loves it,” he says. “He’s nonetheless younger at coronary heart, though he’s actually outdated – he’s younger at coronary heart. He’s good.”
In response to Cook dinner, now bowling coach at Kent, the allrounder’s love for the sport is unwavering. “He genuinely loves taking part in for Kent,” he provides. “He loves the sport. He loves getting within the dressing room and being across the boys.”
“The primary factor that Darren has in addition to a god-given expertise is a love for the sport and a love for studying,” explains Burns.
As Northeast places it: “I’m certain after I’m 45 I’ll be grumpy and moaning about all the children.”
200 not out from 201 deliveries for the legendary Darren Stevens! pic.twitter.com/MG0A0np7u1
— County Championship (@CountyChamp) September 16, 2019
“He’s a kind of guys whose all the time obtained a smile on his face. Mr Optimistic. He places a smiley face on all his package – pads, gloves and finish of his bat,” says Denly.
“He doesn’t take issues too significantly. He understands that taking part in cricket for a dwelling is an absolute dream.”
Wells bumped into Stevens by probability whereas out in South Africa a number of years in the past. The previous was watching his son when Stevens arrived.
“I requested him the place he was taking part in and he advised me he couldn’t play within the first workforce recreation and so was simply having a run out for the membership third eleven.
“Some execs would have most popular a day on the seaside however there he was, and also you wouldn’t have identified any completely different. He turned up obtained his overs underneath his belt and was one of many boys.”
The key to his success? Stevens does it does it his means. At all times has, all the time will.
“Darren lives in Darren’s world; Stevoland,” Walker says. “He has an unimaginable way of life day-to-day. He turns up, performs cricket, will get on the golf course, spends time along with his household and repeats. There’s nothing else that comes into his mindset. He has this interior potential, self-belief, drive and starvation. That’s why he’s nonetheless going.”
“He’s filled with enjoyable, lively,” provides Nixon.
“He’s so relaxed, and never obtained any angst. He’s one of many good guys. He performs the sport the fitting means; if there’s a large full one he’ll attempt to hit it for 4 somewhat than go away it. He performs optimistic cricket with a smile on his have. He’s all the time in search of enjoyable and mischief.”
Stevens is destined to finish his profession with out an England cap. He got here shut in 2010, amassing 239 runs in 5 innings for England Lions towards West Indies and India.
It wasn’t to be although; regardless of three half-centuries within the tri-series, the elusive name by no means got here.
Of the 15 males utilized by the Lions that summer time, 11 both have been or grew to become full internationals. Many consider he was unfortunate to not get the nod.
However he loved appreciable success with the white ball overseas within the early editions of the Bangladesh Premier League, the place his contributions helped safe back-to-back titles for Dhaka Gladiators.
Arguably had he been born a decade later, he’d have spent his days jetting from event to event.
“He obtained the hold of T20 cricket forward of everybody else,” says Northeast.
Ian Pont, coach of the Gladiators, was the person who earmarked Stevens as the right addition for his facet.
“There have been two causes we picked him; he was adaptable and his enter into the squad is efficacious,” he explains. “He’s not outspoken and loud and shouting the percentages within the nook. He’s very considerate and measured; when he says one thing, he means it and it has a worth.
“You see all over the world gamers don’t have a plan in T20. They simply have a swing. That’s not how T20 is performed. You need to hit the fence and that’s what Darren does.
“It sounds silly however for all of the power-hitting the place individuals hit the roof or it goes 105m, it doesn’t matter; you simply need to keep away from the fielders and that’s one factor Darren has been excellent at all through his profession – discovering gaps.”
And naturally, he was the consummate skilled. “He’d typically say: ‘Ponty come and throw some to me,’ Pont displays. “We’d stand within the center and do some range-hitting with a few scouts on the fence. He’d be very particular about what he needed to do.
“It wasn’t random. I discovered that very refreshing and really skilled – Keiron Pollard did the identical. Quite a lot of the native Bangladeshi gamers seen Stevo staying on slightly bit or doing one thing completely different.”
Nonetheless, that doesn’t imply he was first on the coaching floor. “He strolls in at 5 to 10 and casually strolls out able to go about two minutes previous 10,” says Denly.
“I don’t know whether or not he does it to bother the captain and coach. He’s by no means taken any shortcuts although.”
Stevens started life at Leicestershire
Stevens has time for everybody, all the time prepared to go on nuggets of knowledge to these coming by way of the ranks. Along with his document, he may simply flip up, do his job and stroll away. Many do. However that’s not his model.
“There’s no pretence when he’s round,” Cook dinner explains. “He doesn’t suppose he’s the person and everybody else ought to bow to him. You possibly can’t actually converse extremely sufficient of how he’s round with the younger lads.”
Mahmood has the same story to inform. “It doesn’t matter in the event you’re a global participant or a younger participant. He’s all the time there for you.”
“You hear some tales the place the older senior execs don’t have something to do with the children however Darren is the exact opposite. He is likely one of the extra welcoming members of the squad,” explains Robinson.
“He’s all the time there to assist and provide you with a number of ideas alongside the way in which. It’s nice to see a man who’s 44 nonetheless go about his enterprise the way in which he does – he’s nonetheless so eager to study and develop his personal recreation.”
As Hartley bluntly places it; “As somebody whose left the sport the massive indicator is what somebody is wish to people who find themselves now not helpful to them. He’s an excellent instance – I don’t play county cricket, am not a reputation, not helpful for him in every other space of life but he nonetheless has that respect and remains to be a pleasant man to talk to.”
Nash was in South Africa over the winter as properly and would typically drop in on his buddy. “He’ll all the time assist individuals,” he provides. “He loves chatting with the youthful lads. That’s so vital now. You get individuals like him who’ve been round so lengthy, any younger participant could be an fool to not faucet into that information.”
Breed was a kind of who benefited from that assist at Claremont. “He doesn’t simply persist with who he thinks is nice. He’ll assist the fellows within the fourth workforce get into the third workforce. It might be really easy for him to return throughout do his factor and go dwelling. He’s genuinely interested by bettering the membership from prime to backside.”
And as Gillespie places it: “He’s performed and watched our sport evolve in a time when our sport is having one among its most revolutionary intervals in its historical past. That information is value harnessing.”
— County Championship (@CountyChamp) August 11, 2020
At one level it regarded like 2019 could be Stevens’ final summer time in Canterbury. A poor early season run led to the conclusion that the time had come to maneuver in a brand new path.
However usually, he wasn’t having it. There have been no tantrums or toys chucked from the pram. He responded with one thing a lot stronger; runs and wickets, making 88 within the first innings and a pair of five-wicket hauls in a win towards Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge.
That was adopted by a profession greatest 237 and 7 wickets towards Yorkshire at Headingley.
Time for a rethink? You guess.
“The runs weren’t coming and he wasn’t at his greatest with the ball,” explains Walker. “He nonetheless needed to play however he revered the choice I believe. He obtained the place we have been coming from.
“Then he went and did what he did. That’s him. What do you do? We aren’t cussed sufficient or proud sufficient to stay by the choice. It was apparent we needed to rethink this.
“We weren’t testing him; it wasn’t a masterstroke. It’s nice to see a participant show us flawed – wish to them to try this on a regular basis. He actually did that and it grew to become a no brainer.”
Bell-Drummond was watching on from the dressing room that day in Yorkshire and couldn’t consider what was unfolding earlier than his eyes.
“When he got here in at 30 for five and hit a double hundred in lower than two periods, that’s after I thought possibly this man is superman. What a day to save lots of his private greatest for. Everybody has to maneuver on in some unspecified time in the future however clearly he didn’t suppose it was then!”
In a nutshell, as Mahmood so eloquently places it: “He’s only a good man, such a humble man. It was nice sharing the dressing room, the pitch and the ball with him. He known as me Bhai, which implies brother. There’s a by no means a uninteresting second for Darren Stevens.”
The king will not be lifeless but. He’s very a lot alive. And lengthy could it proceed.
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