Stevens keen to keep playing
Stevens keen to keep playing

Kent’s Darren Stevens feared the Covid-19 pandemic that contributed to his father’s death in June might also bring about a premature end to his own extraordinary cricketing career.

The 44-year-old, who joined the Canterbury-based club from his native Leicestershire in 2005, conceded that he agonised throughout four months of lockdown furlough, worrying over the failing health of his father, Bob, as well as the bleak prospect of never taking to a cricket field again.

Having signed a one-year contract extension with Kent in 2019 following a late-season resurgence in form with bat and ball, Stevens is now relieved to be back in training and looking forward to next month’s start to an abridged 2020 campaign.

“Frustration has been high on the agenda throughout the four months,” said the veteran all-rounder.

“Looking at the bigger picture, spending so much time with my wife and family has been great – well for a day or two maybe! No seriously, as professional cricketers, you don’t ever get to share summer days with your family, so that’s all been good fun and has helped me to forget the darker days.”

Recalling his father’s long and brave battle with cancer, pneumonia and then Coronavirus, Stevens added: “The whole thing with my dad was brutal, horrible and very difficult to deal with. The last time I managed to see him, face-to-face, was at Christmas. After that, when I was over playing cricket in Cape Town in the New Year, I’d ring Dad and Mum once a week at least and when he went into hospital, I’d speak to him every day.

“He’d had cancer, but was on top of that after having radiotherapy. The trouble started when he caught pneumonia in hospital during his treatment and that set him back two weeks. He was just getting over that, so they moved him to a respite hospice in Leicester that was Covid-19 free.

“We were happy, because it was one of the best, nicest hospitals in the city, but from nowhere they suffered an outbreak. Someone passed away opposite my dad. He was diagnosed three days later and within 10 days had gone, aged 67.    

“To this day I find myself looking at my phone to see if I’ve had any texts or missed calls from him. So yes, it’s been tough.”

Stevens now hopes that the prospect of a return to cricket and the opportunity to add to his tally of 829 appearances across the three professional formats will all help put those darker days behind him.

​“I’ve had 24 pre-seasons in my career and this is by far the strangest I’ve ever had, and it’s been tough,” said Stevens.

“I’ve only ever missed one pre-season and that was at Leicester when I was forced to sit it out after having an ankle operation, but there’s never been anything as weird as this.

“I’ve really missed the banter and being around the lads. It’s been great this last week or so to bowl at the batters again and have a few more lads around the place.

“Obviously, there are still distancing issues, but it felt good to be back in the nets.”

Recalling the worries that his swansong season might well be totally postponed, Stevens added: “I remember one particular day, mid-way through lockdown, and I was in the car with my wife Katie, and I was explaining how strange the situation was and how genuinely worried I was that I may never play a game of cricket again.

“It was a daunting thought. But there’s a lot of life in this old dog yet and I can’t go out after a shortened season like this. After all, I might only play two or three games, so I’ve made it clear to Kent that I want to go again next season.”

The evergreen Stevens, who made his first-class debut against Cambridge University at Fenner’s back in 1997 – a year before his Kent team-mate Zak Crawley was born – still harbours hopes of playing on until he is 45 and will look to add to his tally of 303 first-class appearances on August 1 when Kent travel to Chelmsford to take on Essex in the first round of the Bob Willis Trophy, this season’s re-vamped red-ball competition.

The majority of the competition will be played behind closed doors, but all 18 county websites will stream live pictures from their home grounds enabling fans to watch the action ball-by-ball.

South Africa-born opening batsman Sean Dickson will not be making the trip to New Writtle Street, however, after deciding to join Durham with immediate effect. His loan move will be ratified as a permanent transfer in November following Dickson’s decision to turn down Kent’s offer of a contract extension.  

The 28-year-old right-hander notched three first-class triple hundreds during something of a feast or famine 69-game career for the club. A top-class close fielder, he averages 34.59 with the bat.