Five minutes before the toss in Kent's T20 Blast quarter-final against Birmingham Bears in late August, Matt Walker
and Sam Billings,
their head coach and captain, pulled Darren Stevens
aside for a chat. The topic was not one he had been expecting to address.
At the ripe old age of 45, Stevens had forced his way back into Kent's T20 plans after three seasons out of the side and had played all 12 of the group-stage games for which he was available. His record for the year did not stand out - 94 runs off 71 balls in eight innings, and nine wickets with an economy rate of 9.07 - but his role at No. 7 had added balance to a side which topped the South Group. Now, however, he was being told he was out of the side at the business end of the competition.
"Was I disappointed? Let's just say you wanted to be a fly on the wall," Stevens recalled. "I'd played every game and I was devastated to be left out. I'm very tight with Sam and Walks and if I didn't show [my frustration] they'd be disappointed in me. It's passion for the club, it's passion for playing big games of cricket. I want to be at the forefront of any big-match situation."
Kent's logic was sound: they wanted to include a left-hander in their middle order to help counter the threat of Danny Briggs, the Bears' left-arm spinner, and with Jack Leaning
and Jordan Cox
both impressive through the group stages, Alex Blake
's selection dictated that Stevens had to miss out. "I said to them: 'look, get us to Finals Day and I'll win you the comp,'" Stevens explained.
A comfortable defence of 162 against the Bears took Kent to their first Finals Day since 2009 and the unavailability of both Blake (injured) and Adam Milne (IPL) opened up an opportunity for Stevens to come back into the side, Billings joking at the toss that he was a "like-for-like replacement" for the New Zealand fast bowler.
A mid-innings wobble saw Kent slip from 93 for 2 to 94 for 5 in the semi-final against Sussex, allowing Stevens time to play himself in after striding out in the 12th over. His 47 not out off 28 balls included seven fours, the pick of them a deft lap-sweep off Chris Jordan; in the run-chase, he removed David Wiese with his first ball to leave Sussex reeling at 43 for 4.
"That was a little bit of the me of old there," he said. "That was my job years ago; I'd come in after about 10 overs, tick it over and go big at the end. It gave me an opportunity to actually give myself a chance, play some good shots and take it down to the wire - that's what I did for years with Kent."
Stevens' contribution in the final was more limited: with the bat, he pulled Craig Overton for a swivelled six but sacrificed his wicket to get Cox back on strike; with the ball, his four overs of nagging medium pace and cutters cost 30 runs - 10 of which came from his final two deliveries - and included the wicket of Gregory, caught by Matt Milnes after Cox's audacious relay parry
on the square-leg boundary.
But he was front and centre of the celebrations, Kent recognising and paying tribute to his determination to win an improbable recall after so long out of their T20 side. "He's just ridiculous, isn't he?" Billings said as supporters held up a 'Stevo is God' flag in the stands. "He's 45 years old, how is not fed up with cricket?
"He just keeps doing it in all formats of the game. He's a club legend. I reckon Stevo probably made his debut before Jordan was born. Experience of big occasions like this is priceless and Darren has been here before and been on the end of victory before."
Following previous wins with Leicestershire (2004) and Kent (2007), Stevens became the Blast's fifth triple-champion after Dan Christian, Ben Duckett
, Paul Nixon
and Claude Henderson
and, at 45 years and 141 days, is unsurprisingly the oldest man to play at Finals Day. It was a far cry from his long spells on the sidelines when Kent were implementing a youth policy - and from being left to run drinks for Derbyshire during a brief loan stint two Blast seasons ago.
"I've been gutted over the last four years not getting a chance but it's been a strong side to get in," Stevens said. "I tried pushing my case but couldn't get in, and then this winter I really pushed on. The way I played in the Champo
[County Championship] this year, where I've been quite aggressive, it showed that actually I've still got the shots in me and I've definitely got the desire to play white-ball cricket and win trophies."
Stevens signed a one-year extension to his Kent contract in June which will take him through until the end of next summer and insisted that he had "no interest" in retiring any time soon. "I'm still playing the game because it's all about winning trophies and winning games of cricket for Kent," he said.
"[Tonight] showed that I've still got it in there. I've got no interest in stopping. As long as I keep myself fit, looking after my body, and as long as the eyes stay good, I'll be alright."