Darren Stevens on still being one of county cricket’s finest players in his forties, in interview with All Out Cricket.
Darren Stevens has had a lot of reasons to celebrate the start of this season. The county stalwart’s career has turned 20, the man himself has turned 41, and he’s playing better than ever, earning the nickname ‘Benjamin Button’ from his teammates.
Benedict Gardner caught up with him to find out what the secret to his newfound success is, whether Kent can earn promotion to Division One of the County Championship, and why, come June, he might be investing in some new protective gear.
You’ve had an incredible start to the year with three five-fers and four fifties in the Championship. Have you gone away and changed anything or is it just a matter of knowing your game inside out?
Considering it’s my 20th year in the game I’d say I know it pretty well, it would be a problem if I didn’t! I get paid to be a batsman, but I’ve let myself down over the last couple of years. I’ve not got as many runs as I should have and I’ve been pretty frustrated. So this winter I went back to the drawing board and worked on quite a few little technical things with Matt Walker our coach. Nothing too drastic, some of it’s pretty basic, but I’ve been drilling it again and again and it just seems to be paying off. And then this time of year is always a bit spicy for the seamers, and with my nagging length and line I’m always in the game with the ball, so it’s just gone my way!
Do you ever feel undervalued as a cricketer?
To be fair it doesn’t really bother me. I don’t really dwell on stuff like that. They can say what they like, you’ve still got to get runs and wickets no matter the pitch. People will be wary of the quick bowlers at one end and fancy themselves against the medium-pacers at the other end, and then every now and again those guys get the wickets.
You’ve been bowling more and more in recent seasons. What prompted the move towards being an allrounder?
I’ve always loved bowling. When I was at Leicester I was always a top-order batsman and I didn’t really get a chance to bowl. I bowled a lot in the nets and learned a lot from the likes of Phil DeFreitas, Darren Maddy, Phil Simmons and Vince Wells. But with so many good allrounders around I was never going to get a bowl. Still I learned my trade there, and then when I moved to Kent – still as a batsman – Dave Fulton gave me a go here and there; when the ball was old I used to bowl between the 65th and 80th over to keep it tight and pick up some wickets along the way. Then when [Rob] Keysy took over the reins he started to give me more responsibility with the ball. He backed me a lot and then all of a sudden I was taking the new ball, because I wasn’t giving any away and I was always challenging the edge or the stumps.
Kent made last year your benefit year, and you only renewed your contract at the end of the season. Did you think that might be your last? How long do you think you can go on for?
When I sat down with the club to talk about my benefit I spoke to them about doing another year, and they said, and rightly so, “Let’s see how this year goes and we’ll talk at the end of it.” I knew it would be a tough year on and off the pitch with the benefit. And I wanted my last year to be a good one, me just enjoying my cricket with no stresses. We’ll assess as we go along but at the moment I’ve got a lot of love for the game and I’m really enjoying it.
The end of last year was controversial for a different reason, with Durham’s relegation meaning either you would be promoted or Hampshire would stay in Division One. Were you at all unhappy with the eventual decision to keep you guys in Division 2?
It was a frustrating time, that. First and foremost, I felt sorry for Durham coming down, because it’s not the players’ fault. They finished mid-table and deserved to stay up. It was disappointing that it didn’t go our way, but they make these rules and regs for a reason. What it does show is that we’re a good side, and we’ve started off really well again this season, we’re three from three at the start of the summer!
the boys are playing really well at the minute, we’ve got really good bowlers, the batters get the runs, so I’ve got a funny feeling we’ll do something special this summer
How well do you think Kent could do this year?
We sat down at the start of the year and had a chat about ambitions and where we want to be at the end of the year. Every team will say the same thing, that they want to go up or win the Championship and compete for a one-day competition, it will be the same chat in every dressing room across the country. The boys are very level-headed, they don’t get too far ahead of themselves. It’s the old cliché, we try and win every game. We’ve got really good team morale, the boys are playing really well at the minute, we’ve got really good bowlers, the batters get the runs, so I’ve got a funny feeling we’ll do something special this summer.
A key member of your side is captain Sam Northeast. Should he be playing for England?
I think so, I think he should be involved. I’ve watched him develop into a fine player over the last nine years, and you only need to look at his stats over the last two years. I know there’s a lot of good players out there at the moment, but there’s not many churning out nearly 2,000 runs every year.
What do you make of the proposed City T20 tournament?
If you’re looking around the world at the moment, the Big Bash is the Twenty20 competition taking the world by storm. The way that’s going, the amount of bums on seats they are getting, this can only be a good thing for getting people interested in the game in England. With more overseas players too it will be a great spectacle. I think it will be a pretty special tournament.
And how about the changes to the schedule, playing the 50-over and T20 competition in blocks?
I think they’ve got it right now. Playing in blocks in the Twenty20s and the one-dayers gives you time for preparation. If you don’t have that time it lets the fans down. Even if the first couple of games are brilliant and high-scoring, by the last five or six with so many games in different formats back to back it just won’t be as intense from the players.
Finally, you’ve got a day-night first-class game against Notts on the horizon. Do you think the pink ball will suit your bowling? And how do you fancy batting against it?
They’re Dukes pink balls this year and we haven’t bowled with them yet. But we played the very first day-nighter in the UK, against Glamorgan, using Kookaburra pink balls and they were doing nothing. Still, they say it does a little bit at night so I might enjoy bowling with it, but I’ll need a different plan while batting, I am not looking forward to that! In that first game it was the hardest thing to pick up, picking the length was really tricky. It was a nightmare in the field too. When I’m walking out to bat to face James Pattinson, Stuart Broad, Jake Ball and Luke Fletcher, I might be wearing body armour!