Kent's evergreen Darren Stevens raring to go - again

Darren Stevens during Kent's media day at The Spitfire Ground PA Photos

Darren Stevens proudly declares that he still thinks of himself as being 21, then he pauses, realising that his advancing years may force him to revise that upwards slightly.

"Maybe I should say 25 now," laughs Stevens, who turns 43 on April 30, which, all being well, will be two matches into his 23rd County Championship season and 15th with Kent. "I'm in a changing room with probably an average age of 25, 26, so it sort of keeps me on the same level."

Stevens epitomises the notion that you can teach an old dog new tricks. He changed his preparation dramatically over the English winter, shunning the indoor nets to take his family on a five-month trip to South Africa, where he captained and - with an eye on his next career move, coached - Western Province club Claremont. He also linked up with a personal trainer for the first time.

"We did a lot of different things that I've never done before," Stevens says. "I told him what I wanted to do and what I wanted to get out of the winter and he went, 'right leave it with me'. So I trusted him in it and, to be fair, I think I've probably pulled up in as good a shape as I have done for a while."

The second-oldest player in the County Championship behind Somerset's former England opener Marcus Trescothick, who turned 43 on Christmas Day, Stevens played an important part in Kent's promotion to Division One for 2019 after eight seasons in Division Two, claiming 42 wickets at 19.02. He also took a limited-overs career-best of 6 for 25 in Kent's 220-run win over Surrey in the Royal London Cup.

Perhaps the greatest by-product of Stevens's maturity is evident when he describes a desire to learn from his mistakes as the key motivating factor at this stage of his career.

"The challenges is the big thing," Stevens says. "Last year there were all different challenges and I'll look at it and go, 'why didn't I succeed, why didn't I get my runs in, when I did get out in the 40s, why didn't I get 80s and 100s?' I suppose you look at that and you go, ' right if I come across that again this year, I don't want to be getting out the same way as I did last year.'"

That said, maturity does not stop him from wanting to play as much as possible. Stevens was dropped for the first time in what Kent coach Matt Walker describes as "a hell of a long time" last season when the team opted to play off-spinner Adam Riley in a six-wicket win at Derbyshire, a decision Stevens says hurt.

"The bigger picture of it was that was the side they wanted to go in with to win the game and they won the game so I can't complain about that," Stevens says. "Yes, it was really disappointing but it's one of those things. It's going to come to an end one day or another but I'll try and make it on my terms."

Likewise, Stevens was not happy with being being rested for Kent's T20 campaign.

"I had a couple of niggles and the Twenty20 kicked in and they ended up keeping me out of that and then they wanted to go with a few youngsters and I said, 'yeah, fine, ok,' but I needed to keep playing because I know my body and if I just sit around for two weeks not playing any cricket I'm just going to go backwards rather than keep ticking over and moving forwards," he says.

"So I'll be looking to play every single game of the summer. I'm sure the captain and the coach might sit me down and say, 'we might want to rest you here and there,' but I'll be fighting it to say, 'no'."

Walker's description of Kent's "move to go with a younger, more vibrant, energetic team, which meant Stevo wasn't going to play," T20s last season suggests Stevens will have a tough task securing a spot in the Vitality Blast this year. But the coach marvels at Stevens' longevity and still sees him being a key part of the team - providing he can keep his young rivals at bay.

"Whatever he does, he does it very well and he seems to turn up ready and raring to go every season," Walker says. "He doesn't need really motivating, he has such pride and drive for his own determination to succeed in a Kent shirt. He's done it for a long time now and whenever you start to question him, he'll prove you wrong.

"Stevo, I'm sure, will play a very important part again this year but, again, we've got young lads now really knocking the door down and putting pressure on his position, which is what you want."

Stevens has not set a retirement date and will discuss his future with the club in June. In the meantime, he is focused on propelling his team towards a big upset, or 'doing an Essex', as was the popular refrain around Kent's season launch on Monday. Essex won the 2017 Championship in their first season after promotion.

"Yes, we'd love to win the competition, yes, we'd love to stay up, yes, we'd love to win all our games at home and win a couple away but let's just keep it simple," Stevens says. "That's what we did really well last year... I don't think too much will change this year either. But yes, it would be great to win Division One. Why can't we do it?"