Darren Stevens is set to line up for Kent against Lancashire in the Royal London Cup final this Saturday in what is likely to be his final appearance for the county. But, as he tells Wisden Cricket Monthly magazine editor Jo Harman, he’s far from done yet.
Barring another U-turn from the club’s hierarchy, the Royal London Cup final at Trent Bridge will be the final chapter in Darren Stevens’ epic Kent career. It began in 2005, when the 28-year-old (then a specialist batter with five first-class wickets to his name across eight seasons on the circuit) signed a two-year deal at Canterbury after Leicestershire declined to offer him a contract (oops) and Kent missed out on Kevin Pietersen. “I feel I still have much to prove,” said Stevens at the time.
At the age of 46 – 838 wickets and more than 20,000 runs later – he’s still proving that point, raging against the dying of the light with a stunning sequence of knocks to almost singlehandedly drag the Spitfires through to Saturday’s showpiece final against Lancashire.
Three weeks after it was revealed that Kent would not be renewing his contract, Stevens bowled 10 miserly overs on the bounce before masterminding a chase of 313-7 with an over to spare in the semi-final victory over Hampshire, finishing 84 not out from 65 balls. This after he had hit a crucial 49 in a must-win group-stage win over Lancs before smoking 41 from 24 in a quarter-final trouncing of Leicestershire.
A calf injury sustained against Glamorgan in early August looked like it had brought a premature end to his Kent career, but Stevens defied the physio’s expectations to remind the club what they will be missing. “Maybe these old bones and muscles repair a bit quicker than people were expecting,” he tells Wisden.com with a grin. He isn’t happy, though, frustrated by Kent’s unwillingness to offer him a new deal.
“I’m looking for more of a player/coach role,” he says. “I’ve been pushing Kent for years, but for some reason they don’t want a bar of it. It baffles me really because we get these coaches in from other counties, and don’t get me wrong, they’re great lads. We had Michael Yardy for two years, which was outstanding and he’s a great bloke with a lot of experience, good coach, good people-person, the lads loved him. But for him to come in for two years and then disappear [to become academy director at Sussex], it sort of leaves your batters and your youngsters in the lurch a bit.
“We’ve got Tendo [Ryan ten Doeschate] in this year, and fingers crossed he stays on for years to come, but you can see the writing on the wall, can’t you? In a couple of years he’s done his time here, he’ll move on and go back home probably. But for me, it’s like I’m here. I’ve done my badges.”
Stevens says he asked Paul Downton, Kent’s director of cricket, what he needed to do to transition to the coaching staff, but a burgeoning CV still hasn’t landed him a deal. “Downton told me a few years ago that I needed to go away and coach, so I’ve spent the last five years abroad coaching, working with kids, working with club cricketers, working with county cricketers, working with second-team cricketers. The last year I’ve been working with South East Stars for a bit of a mix up, which I’ve really enjoyed. I went over to South Africa and worked with Gary Kirsten for two winters, so I’ve done a huge range.
“I know our lads that have grown up through Kent. I know their games inside out, better than they do. This is obviously what I want to do, it seems a no-brainer to me. For some reason the hierarchy are basically saying you can’t be a player and a coach in a changing room. I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something that’s blatantly obvious, but I can’t see it.”
Stevens insists he’s playing as well as he’s ever done and that his body, incredibly, has distance left to run. (A pint of Guinness after each day’s play is key, he says: “Plenty of iron.”) If he can steer Kent to victory at Trent Bridge and claim what would be his first List-A cup, the clamour will grow for another change of heart – just as it did in 2019 when the club backtracked on their decision to release him after a stunning run of Championship form. If no contract materialises, he’s unlikely to be short of offers.
“The day my announcement came out I had a couple of calls from players, friends – condolences and all that sort of stuff – asking what I was doing. I said I really want to keep playing and they said we’d love to have you. I said that’s great.
“But my heart is with Kent and my heart is with these lads who are playing. We’ve shared a lot of emotions together as a group. I speak to a lot of them daily as it is, mentoring and talking game plans. If people are struggling a bit, I get a phone call or they come round for a beer or a coffee and we talk it out. I just wish I could be more hands on.”
If this really is to be the end of Darren Stevens’ Kent career, don’t expect him to go gently. Lancashire, be warned.