Darren Ian Stevens
April 30, 1976, Leicester
Right hand bat
Right arm medium
Mount Grace High School, John College
Having existed on one-year contracts since his 40th birthday - and that's quite a few candles ago now - Darren Stevens continues prove his worth to Kent, helping them to the T20 Blast trophy and Division Three title for 2021. Having signed yet another one-year deal in June, Stevens will line up for an 18th season with Kent in 2022, taking him beyond his 46th birthday, and he says he has no interest in retiring.
For some time now, Stevens has been all about proving even his own club wrong. He forced his way back into Kent's T20 team after three years on the outer, and then, overlooked for their quarter-final win over Birmingham Bears, he returned to play an important role in their semi-final triumph over Sussex.
In the Championship, Stevens was Kent's third-highest run-scorer with 650 runs at 43.33, including 190 from 149 balls against Glamorgan, and their leading wicket-taker with 39 at 18.58. He was also their leading wicket-taker in the previous season's Bob Willis trophy with 29 from five matches at an average of 15.58, leading him to be named as one of Five Cricketers of the Year by Wisden, which hailed him as "one of the domestic game's most unsung heroes".
Already one of the great evergreen performers of the county circuit, 2019 turned out to be one of the most pivotal seasons of Stevens' career. After being informed that Kent would not renew his contract, Stevens struck a career-best 237 off 225 balls and took seven wickets - including 5 for 20 in the second innings - against Yorkshire in the penultimate game of the year, prompting the club to immediately re-open negotiations. Having scored 88 and taken 10 wickets for the match against Nottinghamshire the previous week, Stevens ultimately walked away with a deal for 2020.
Before that, Stevens' playing future was uncertain after he had struggled with the bat for much of the season. A T20 loan spell at Derbyshire suggested he could still find a new home had he been forced to look elsewhere in his determined bid to play beyond 2019, although he was left out of Derbyshire's Finals Day side. A prodigious trainer, Stevens started the year by showing a willingness to learn new tricks when he teamed up with a personal trainer for the first time in South Africa during the winter of 2018-19 and ended up as Club Player of the Year.
His enthusiasm for the grunt work of swing and seam bowling continued to trouble opposition batsmen as Kent justified their promotion with a fourth-place finish upon their return to Division One. He had played a big role in taking them there, too, with 42 wickets at 19.02 in 2018. There were also career-best limited-overs figures to celebrate when he routed Surrey at Beckenham with 6 for 25.
In 2017, Stevens' return in the Championship was extraordinary for a man with so many rings on the tree: 62 wickets at 18.08, including 8 for 75 against his former county, Leicestershire, which remains his career-best. In Twenty20, though, he was more lightly used, valued as much for the potential of his hitting.
Stevens made his debut for Leicestershire in 1997 at the age of 21, but it was not until 1999 that he played his fourth Championship match, and he marked the occasion by scoring 130 against Sussex at Arundel where his innings received the seal of approval of the watching Lord Cowdrey. Even so, his appearances remained spasmodic until middle-order batsmen like Aftab Habib and Ben Smith left the county. He took his chance, impressing many good judges with his clean striking of the ball - earning himself a place in the National Academy squad to go to Australia in 2002-03 and making the final 30 for that winter's World Cup. He left Leicestershire for Kent at the end of 2004, and was an instant hit, scoring 1277 runs in his first season at Canterbury.
At that stage of his career, bowling was very much Stevens' second string. With Kent coming to rely more and more on his medium-pace, however, he developed into a genuine county allrounder and took the new ball - with plenty of success - during the first half of the 2011 season. Add bowling ability to serious batting power and it was no surprise to see him recruited for T20 cricket by sides in both Bangladesh and New Zealand. Back at Canterbury, Stevens became hugely popular with Kent supporters and passed 10,000 first-class runs in his two-club career.
He swept the board at the 2013 Player of the Year event: best player, best bowler, and best batsman. He scored over a thousand first-class runs at 63, including 205 not out against Lancashire and, although regarded as a batting allrounder, he nevertheless gathered 32 wickets in the Championship. No Kent player scored more runs in T20 cricket, and he needed only 44 balls to score a century against Sussex in the YB40, the fastest hundred of the year.
Stevens' acquittal in February 2014 on a charge of failing to report a corrupt approach while playing in the Bangladesh Premier League allowed him to put to bed an anxious winter and, once an anti-corruption video for the PCA was delivered, focus on continuing to be a mainstay of the Kent side.
His career-best T20 knock of 90 against Surrey at The Oval in 2015 insisted that there was life in the old dog yet and, awarded a benefit year at Kent in 2016, he fought as valiantly as anybody in the club's promotion near-miss.
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