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Darren Stevens puts Kent 'hurt' to one side in pursuit of farewell silverware

Veteran allrounder doesn't yet know if Royal London Cup final will be his last professional game

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Darren Stevens cuts another boundary during his match-winning 84 not out, Hampshire vs Kent, Ageas Bowl, August 30, 2022

Darren Stevens smashed 84 not out in Kent's Royal London Cup semi-final win  •  Getty Images

"It hurts," says Darren Stevens a month after Kent, the county he has called home for 17 years, announced they would not be offering a new contract - one which would have seen him play to the age of 47 and beyond.
It's present tense, but this time - having lived on year-by-year deals with the club for several years, memorably forcing their hand at the end of the 2019 season - he has accepted the decision.
"I don't want to fight any more," Stevens told ESPNcricinfo. "I feel like for the last five years I've been fighting for a contact where in three of those five years I've got Player of the Year, so I don't know how that actually works.
"It was gut-wrenching and really disappointing and it still hurts because I feel like I still have a lot to give for Kent cricket, on and off the pitch. But unfortunately the decision's been made by the hierarchy.
"I'd like to think I've still got the fight in me to churn out a couple of hundreds and a couple of five-fors but unfortunately I've not been picked in the four-day stuff. That's disappointing as well, so I can't really put a fight up. So yeah, it hurts. It hurts."
Stevens' last chance to give for Kent will be in Saturday's Royal London Cup final against Lancashire at Trent Bridge. It comes after he helped propel his side into the knockout stages with a 41-ball 49 in a two-wicket victory the last time the two sides met, which was also Stevens' final appearance at Canterbury.
He smashed 41 off just 24 balls and conceded only 37 runs from his 10 overs as Kent eased past his former club, Leicestershire, in the play-off. Then his 84 from 65 balls broke Hampshire hearts in the semi-final after Kent had wobbled to 20 for 2 inside six overs and 68 for 3 inside 15 chasing 311.
He admits it will be strange walking out with the team knowing that it's probably the last time with Kent but not knowing whether it will be for the last time ever. Stevens has only played five of Kent's 12 Championship games so far this year and, with just two fixtures remaining, he has low expectations of being picked again.
"It will be emotional," Stevens said. "We've had too much thinking time this week. I've been talking about it a lot and I've been thinking about it more than I would do.
"They don't think you can be a player in a changing room and then go straight into coaching in a changing room [but] the group of lads that we've got at Kent, I feel like I'm like a mentor to them anyway"
"I'll be a bit nervous but when you get across the rope, you're back on your job and I'll have a clear mind on what I'm doing, batting or bowling. It's hard to explain. It might be my last game for Kent, it might my last professional game.
"Somebody asked me a while ago about walking out at Kent in a four-day game for the last time. Well, I think I've already done that.
"But it was like, 'say it was the last game of the season, what would that be like?' And I said, 'you can't ask me that question because I can't answer it.' I don't want it to stop but it might be taken out of my hands."
Having railed against retirement, saying he still adores playing, Stevens is determined to seek a fresh deal at another club. He has held talks with two counties he doesn't wish to name at this stage about a player-coach role.
It's the sort of job he wanted at Kent, where he has settled with his wife and two young sons after moving from Leicestershire in 2005. He spent this season building his coaching experience as a bowling coach for South East Stars and working with a school in Canterbury, but the club were not prepared to offer him such a position.
"They don't think you can be a player in a changing room and then go straight into coaching in a changing room," Stevens said. "I'll look at it differently, because it's from a selfish point of view... the group of lads that we've got at Kent at the moment, I feel like I'm like a mentor to them anyway, not only a team-mate and a good friend.
"You naturally just do it, I feel like I naturally just help. A lot of the lads at the moment, they talk to me a lot about their batting and some of them about their bowling. That's where I want to go.
"I'd love to stay at Kent but obviously they've made it very clear that they'd like me to go away and then maybe one day I'll come back. We'll see what happens."
Stevens said he had found it particularly hard seeing Kent struggle in the Championship - they are third from bottom in Division One and face a three-way battle with Somerset and Warwickshire to avoid being relegated alongside last-placed Gloucestershire.
Stevens hasn't played a four-day game since mid-May. He scored 148 runs at 24.66 during his limited appearances in the Championship and took four wickets at an average of 92.75.
"They gave me the one-day stuff, I've done okay in the one-day game," Stevens said. "Looking at that semi-final knock, that was probably as good as I've played for a long time.
"Unfortunately they've taken it of my hands so I can't perform in four-day cricket because they've not given me an opportunity. But the other thing with that is we're losing games.
"For the last 17 years for Kent, when we've been in trouble it's been my job to try and get us out of trouble and when I'm sitting there watching us lose games it really hurts. But there's nothing I can do bar support he lads as I always do. But it hurts when I see my team losing."
Should his team find themselves in trouble against Lancashire on Saturday, all Kent eyes will be on Stevens to do his job one more time.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo