Interviews

Joey Evison braced for his accession as Kent prepare to bid Darren Stevens farewell

Young allrounder in a hurry to succeed, and ready to take the expectation in his stride

David Hopps
David Hopps
13-Sep-2022
Joey Evison, pictured during a sub-fielder appearance against New Zealand, is a young player in a hurry to succeed  •  Getty Images

Joey Evison, pictured during a sub-fielder appearance against New Zealand, is a young player in a hurry to succeed  •  Getty Images

The man who must replace Darren Stevens was relaxing on the boundary edge at Canterbury. Joey Evison has the ability to make his own headlines as the seasons go by. But for the moment he is consigned to a supporting role in a Royal London Cup final that will be billed as Stevo's Kent farewell.
"No questions about Stevo," joked a passing Kent team-mate as Evison took time off from 12th-man duties during a Championship match against Essex to tell his own story. It is an impressive one, too, the joint fastest half-century ever scored at U-19 level, a record he shares with Rishabh Pant, and now a one-day cup final back at Trent Bridge after Nottinghamshire loaned him to Kent ahead of a full-time transfer at the end of the season.
This weekend, though, Stevo's shadow spreads large. How could it not be when, at 46, he has propelled Kent into the 50-over final with successive scores of 49 against Lancashire in a must-win group game; 41 against Leicestershire in the play-offs, on the ground where his career began, and then, most astonishingly of all, an unbeaten 84 from 65 balls against Hampshire in a semi-final that Kent edged by three wickets with an over to spare? After 26 years, he still refuses to accept that the final might be the end of his journey. A cricketer who is adamant he deserves a player/coach role, if not at Kent then elsewhere, and who appears to live by Arthur Schopenhauer's age-defying dictum that once you are over the hill you begin to pick up speed.
So maybe just one Stevo question? Evison is happy to oblige, as best he can - he has only been at Kent six weeks. If he is feeling the pressure of being identified as Stevens' successor, he is managing it nonchalantly enough.
"Obviously, he is an all-rounder like me, but I'm just starting out whereas he's a Kent hero, isn't he? I don't know him too well, but he's been so supportive and nice to me for the last couple of weeks I've been playing with him.
"He's a Kent legend, just a great guy to have around the dressing-room. To keep playing as he is at the same level for a number of years now. It's just really inspiring. I don't know what I'll be doing when I'm that age. That's 26 years away."
Stevens knows every undulation of the Canterbury ground and has advised Evison how to cope with its particular challenges.
"There's a big slope and people struggle bowling at that end."
Still finding his way around, he conceded he didn't know what the end was called. The Nackington Road End is not the sort of uber-cool name that sticks in the mind. He has been spending time getting to know Canterbury (he was raised in Stamford, a similar sort of place, and loves it) and advancing his career step by step while bellows of "Stevooooo" sound across the grounds.
Joeeeeey's move to Kent (okay, it's a bit early for the chant) will have surprised many. He is a genuine allrounder (Kent have used him as an opener in the Royal London Cup) and Nottinghamshire valued him highly, but not enough to play him often. Peter Moores, their coach, called him "a player of immense promise" and described his departure as "bitterly disappointing" and "hard to take".
Nottinghamshire were well stocked with allrounders, not least their highly-respected captain Steven Mullaney, 35 now but still a major influence on a winning side. When Evison did get a game at the start of the season it was because the overseas fast bowlers had not yet turned up and he found himself plugging holes (my words, not his) as a fourth seamer, batting at No.9. He responded with a maiden Championship century, but was briefly loaned out to Leicestershire in search of greater opportunities before Kent came calling.
"It's just about opportunity for me at this stage of my career," Evison said. "There really wasn't a fit. I've been waiting for a couple of years now. When I've got my opportunity, I've taken it. That's all you can do really. And that's why I've come to Kent. Notts said they're disappointed, but I wasn't getting played. And that's the past now. I just want to move on with the new club. And I'm very excited."
He joined Notts via the Lincolnshire development pathway and, at 15, he became one of the youngest players ever to strike a hundred in the Nottinghamshire Premier League. He soon followed his father, Gareth, a wicketkeeper-batter for Lincolnshire, in winning an England U-19 call. His father has been a big influence as was Dean Headley, the former Kent and England quick, the director of cricket at Stamford School. Although not blessed with great pace, he has proved himself adept at moving the ball both ways and has a presence with the bat.
He is still technically a Notts player, so found himself in the awkward position of wanting them to do well, but not so well that they faced Kent in the 50-over final. "If they had got to the final, I wouldn't be able to play against them. Obviously, I like to see them do well, but…
"It's going to be weird playing for a different team at Trent Bridge, but as a player you play to win trophies. If I can do that in the first month or so of me being here, that would be amazing. We didn't have a great start to the competition, but we've just got so much momentum now. We won the last five games in the competition and they were all must-win games. And they were all close ones."
Stevens' story began in 1997, an optimistic age of Britpop and first-term Tony Blair. Evison's professional career began amid the loneliness and anxiety of Covid lockdowns. "We were all in the same boat," he said, philosophically.
He had just come back from the 2020 U-19 World Cup in South Africa and was involved in grass-wicket practice under a giant marquee when instructions were given to isolate at home. His lockdown routine was a lot of running and long dog walks back at the family home, for a couple of King Charles Spaniels no less - the dog breed that is expected to become suddenly popular after the death of the Queen. When he returned for the Bob Willis Trophy, against Derbyshire, it all went wrong.
"I went through the whole of lockdown gagging to get back out there and then the first game I got injured. That was lockdown running. When you are not playing cricket, you have to keep your fitness up and you don't know how much to do to keep on track. I did an awful lot of running which was the only thing you could do."
He didn't play again for the rest of that truncated summer, and by the time he was loaned out to Leicestershire midway through 2022, Evison had been limited to nine first-class matches in four seasons - albeit his figures of 395 runs at 30.38 and 21 wickets at 25.28 backed up the sense of a player in a polite hurry to succeed.
One unexpected benefit of his loan deal, however, was a friendly against the India tourists at Grace Road in which several India players, Pant among them, took the field for Leicestershire in one of these meaningless practice matches that have regrettably become so prevalent.
Pant kept wicket with Evison in the field. And they had a connection because, in the warm-up matches for the 2022 U-19 World Cup in the Caribbean, he had equalled Pant's record 18-ball half-century at U-19 level. It came against Sri Lanka at the Coolidge ground in Antigua, the ground famously bought by the American businessman Allen Stanford, whose brief attempts to become a big player in short-form cricket ended in criminal charges for him and embarrassment for England.
Modesty prevailed. It might be seen as a bit crass to tap a worldwide star on the shoulder and, as an ice-breaker, tell him you share his world record at junior level.
"I was thinking about mentioning it, but in the end I didn't. I didn't really get the opportunity. He's got a bit of an aura about him but he's such a nice guy, funny man as well."
Evison might get another chance for that conversation one day. Sport has dominated his life. He was at Leicester Tigers academy, as a 16-year-old fly half, before he had to choose between cricket and rugby. Impatience to progress led him into cricket just as it has now brought him to Kent.
"When you're 16 you can play ahead of your years in cricket, but not in rugby. Rugby is such a physical game; you can't play with 24-year-olds because you just get physically damaged. I was just further on cricket. That was the route and I'm happy that I took it."

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps