Stevens determined to keep playing
Stevens determined to keep playing

During his 23 years in the game Darren Stevens’ name has generally been one of the first to be inked onto a county team sheet, be it for his native Leicestershire or, during the past 15 seasons, with his adopted Kent.

But, at the age of 43 and approaching his 300th career appearance in first-class cricket, Stevens finds himself on fringes of Kent’s starting XI for the first time in his illustrious career.

With 15,000 runs and almost 500 wickets to his name, Stevens is not about to take the selectorial rebuff lightly and is doing all he can to force his way back into the first team.

The veteran all-rounder threw his name into the selection hat once more last week by taking the first ever hat-trick during Kent Seconds’ commanding 10-wicket win over Somerset Seconds at Taunton Vale Sports Club.

Stevens had Tom Lammonby caught in the cordon, Ben Wells caught behind and then plucked out Josh Davey’s off stump to claim three-in-three on his way to match-winning figures of 8-5-11-5.

“The funny thing is I didn’t even keep the match ball,” said Stevens. “I didn’t think to ask, but it was nice to get a run out, get a few overs under my belt and spend some time out in the middle batting.

“The hat-trick was a bonus really. I’d had a lot of two-in-twos before but never a hat-trick, I’d not even thought about it before. Min Patel [Kent’s Second XI coach] told me after that he’d only ever taken a hat-trick in club cricket, so at least I’ve beaten Min!”

Stevens admits that his below-par batting form at the start of the Specsavers County Championship season led to his demotion, but that he is trying his utmost to force his way back into the reckoning.

“I think I’ve got to go back to basics, back to how I used to play, ‘see the ball, hit the ball’,” he added. “It’s been a bit frustrating and I’ve been battling to get through tough periods with the bat.

“I’ve also found myself batting at number eight and, it’s no disrespect to tail-enders, but going in at eight or nine, you end up batting like a tail-ender. If you bat in the top six, you know you’re there to get runs, there’s that added responsibility and I thrive on that.

“Missing out on the team at Tunbridge Wells really hurt because it’s the first season for Kent when I’ve never played there. It’s one of my favourite grounds and a place where I usually go well, but I get it, I understand the club’s reasoning.

“Matt Walker [Kent’s First XI coach] sat me down beforehand and said the youngsters, like Grant Stewart, Matt Milnes and Harry Podmore were all fit, and that he was going to give them a go. I understood, but I felt I’d bowled nicely at the start of the summer without necessarily getting the number of wickets I’d deserved.

“That’s the game, that’s the way it goes and sometimes you bowl well and don’t get the nicks, or they fall short when you do. It is the game, and I do get that my time will eventually come to an end, whenever that may be.

“Youth needs to be given a chance to blossom of course, but I’d taken 15 wickets at under 30 apiece, which wasn’t too bad, so I guess it was my batting that let me down.”

Stevens added: “I’m now in a position where I’m trying to force my way back into a winning team, which is hard, but I can honestly say that I’m really happy with the way the club is going. The boys, especially the new recruits, are all progressing and kicking on.

“The signing of Ollie Rayner on loan from Middlesex made an immediate difference at Tunbridge Wells and gave the side the balance it had lacked. While it’s horrible to see Adam Riley leave the club, he was a good mate, I also know Ollie will do a good job for us.

“Raynes will get you wickets on a turning pitch and on a flat deck, he’ll bowl you dot balls, which means you can keep him going at one end and rotate your seamers from the other. That eases the workload for everyone because you can’t expect these youngsters to keep bowling 25 overs every day.”

Stevens will now hope to be included in Sunday’s squad when Kent entertain first division rivals Warwickshire at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence from 11am.

South Africa all-rounder Wiaan Mulder is managing a slight ankle injury and may need a late fitness test, while Ivan Thomas and Sam Billings remain on the long-term injured list.