Surrey savaged by old dog Stevens
Kent 231 for 7 (Stevens 90, Linley 4-45) beat Surrey 177 (Wilson 55, Stevens 4-39) by 54 runs
Only five Englishmen - Owais Shah, Luke Wright, Michael Lumb, Ravi Bopara and Phil Mustard - have scored more runs in T20 cricket than Darren Stevens. All played for England in the format, so Stevens can feel a little aggrieved at never having received an opportunity.
Into his 40th year, that chance will never come. And the start of 2015 has not been kind. So bleak has Stevens' form been that, immediately after Kent lost to Derbyshire in the County Championship, he was whisked away to find form for the 2nd XI.
The evidence of his 172nd T20 game rather suggests that it worked, as Stevens looted 56 runs from his last 16 balls. The 18th over of the innings, from James Burke, yielded 27 runs. Stevens heaved two sixes over midwicket, but it was the brutality of his straight hitting that lingered: one four almost took out the umpire with its ferocity.
Invigorating with the bat, Stevens is a rather undemonstrative bowler, operating wicket-to-wicket at a pace no greater than Kent fans driving to the Kia Oval on the M25. But he clean bowled Aneesh Kapil in the first over of the innings and then returned to end a stand of 59 between Gary Wilson and Zafar Ansari with which Surrey briefly threatened to get close.
The ball after Ansari harrumphed Stevens over long-on for six, he fell attempting a repeat. As his bat thudded into the ground in frustration, it was clear Surrey were heading inexorably towards a third consecutive T20 defeat at home.
Stevens ended up with 4 for 39 to go with his career best 90 - quite an evening's work. "It could have been a hundred and a five-for, but I'm not going to complain," he said. His belligerence had lifted Kent to within nine of the 240 Surrey conceded against Glamorgan at the Kia Oval in their first T20 of the season. The sight of 18-year-old Ryan Davies thumping his first ball over long-on for six in his first innings in professional T20 cricket rather summed the bedlam up.
Surrey's attack was made to look like the patched-up operation it was. The extent of Surrey's absentee list - even discounting Kevin Pietersen, seven first choice T20 players were out - had led Graham Ford to admit they were underdogs. In his first T20 match for four years Tim Linley, fresh from taking a Championship five-for on loan at Sussex, snared three wickets in the final over of Kent's innings, though by then it felt rather late. Sam Curran, the young brother of Tom who only turned 17 a fortnight ago, learned of the perils of bowling too short.
While it felt a little churlish to criticise in the circumstances, it was curious that Ansari, who bowled Joe Denly when bowling the opening over of the innings, was left with an over unused despite taking 2 for 22. Perhaps more curious still, skipper Gareth Batty restricted himself to a solitary over.
The absence of Jason Roy, Steven Davies, Moises Henriques and Kumar Sangakkara led to an elevation to opener for Tom Curran, Surrey's regular No. 9 in the Championship. Not that he gave any indication of being perturbed, striking two enormous straight sixes until he was needlessly run out. Gary Wilson fused orthodoxy and cute innovation shuffling across his stumps, to record his sixth T20 half-century, but Surrey retained the feel of a side a couple of batsmen light.
As Mitchell Claydon removed Matt Dunn with the game's last delivery, so ended an emphatic Kent victory on a sun-kissed evening. Having seen over 400 runs, few of a crowd of 21,717 seemed particularly perturbed by Surrey's loss. Their next home game, against Middlesex in a fortnight, is almost a sell-out already. Surrey now have four defeats to go with their solitary T20 win, and only a stirring turnaround can spare them from being knocked out in the group stages. How much such failure would matter is a moot point.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts