Darren Stevens, the Benjamin Button of county cricket, produced perhaps the most remarkable performance of his career yet as his electric 190 transformed Kent’s game against Glamorgan.
Stevens, who turned 45 last month, shared a partnership with Miguel Cummins, Kent’s No 10, that will immediately enter county folklore. The two added 166 for the ninth wicket, turning a perilous 128-8 into 294-9. While Cummins offered resolute defence, Stevens treated the Glamorgan bowlers with the contempt that cats reserve for mice.
Of those 166 runs, Cummins contributed only a single while Stevens hit 160 as he produced a stunning assault. It was the highest ever first-class partnership in which one player had scored more than 90 per cent of the runs.
Stevens’ 15 sixes, peppering the on-side boundary ropes, were the most ever in a first-class innings by a player aged 40 or older.
Only Graham Napier, in 2011, and Andrew Symonds, in 1995, have bludgeoned more sixes in a County Championship innings – and Stevens was only one shy of emulating their joint record of 16. Naturally, Stevens fell attempting a 16th, when he thumped Marnus Labuschagne’s leg-break to long-on, as he treated the crowd who braved the bluster at Canterbury to a display of hitting for the ages.
“The lads said to me ‘Oh the crowds come in and you show up, don’t you’,’” Stevens said. “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 and hopefully we’ll bowl well tomorrow.
“It was good just to get bums on seats, it feels like a proper game now, where 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.
“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 and high I thought the wind would take it with it, that was my thought process, when I was batting at the pavilion end.
“We were in a tough situation and all I was worried about was trying to hit a boundary in the first couple of balls, or those first three balls and then get off strike. I thought they did it poorly really, I thought they could have brought a man in. 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.”
Yet this performance was merely the latest in Stevens’ extraordinary late-career metamorphosis into a titan of the county game. Last month he was named as one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year – becoming the fourth-oldest player ever to win the accolade, and the oldest since 1933.
It was a justified reward for a career that has discovered new heights in his fifth decade, as Stevens’ cocktail of big hitting and relentlessly accurate seam bowling have made him among the most valuable – and cherished – players on the circuit.
Stevens waited until the age of 35 before taking his maiden first-class five-for. He now has 30 of them, with his nagging wicket-to-wicket seam bowling posing an unrelenting challenge with the new ball.
The development of his bowling is such that this has been his primary worth to Kent in recent years. Yet the very effectiveness of Stevens’ bowling – since 2016, the summer he turned 40, he has taken 246 first-class wickets at 19.9 apiece – has risked obscuring his worth as a batsman.
His entry into the professional game came as a batsman and, if he is now less consistent with the willow than with the ball, he retains a rare ability to seize a match in the lower-middle order. This was his 35th first-class century, and took his total tally of runs over 1,600 at almost exactly 35 apiece. All told he has 42 centuries in professional cricket to go with 33 five-fers.
If last summer was considered Stevens’ annus mirabilis, 2021 is so far shaping up almost as well. It has now brought him two centuries, at an average of 46.7, to go with 19 wickets at 20.2: the numbers of a titan.
While Stevens is a fiercely dedicated professional, there is an old-school element to him too, as he told Wisden.Com recently: “What I do rely on is a pint of Guinness after every day’s play. There’s the secret right there, plenty of iron. “
To complete a phenomenal day, before bad light truncated play Stevens had his revenge on Labuschagne, the No 3-ranked Test batsman in the world, snaring him lbw for 11: a quintessential Stevens dismissal with a ball that nipped back off the seam.
It was the second time Stevens has dismissed Labuschagne this season, and put the seal on a day in which, once again, Stevens had earned his post-play Guinness.