ONE WOULD be hard pushed to find a bigger age difference in a County Championship match than the 26 years that exists between Kent’s Darren Stevens, 43 years young, and Yorkshire’s Matthew Revis, 17 years old.
Why, Stevens is practically old enough to be Revis’s grandfather in some parts of Leeds, old enough to show the young sprog around his allotment on a weekend and to regale him of tales of the pre-Internet/mobile phone era.
Yes, Stevens is at the extremity of one end of the career spectrum and Revis at the extremity of the other.
And on the first day of the final Championship game at Headingley this year, it was ‘ol man Stevens who showed that there is life in the ol’ dog yet to frustrate a Yorkshire side for whom opening batsman Revis is making his first-class debut.
In the midst of an Indian summer in more ways than one, both in terms of the weather and his personal form, Stevens – who debuted four years before Revis was born – scored a career-best 237 as Kent totalled 482-8 after winning the toss.
In tandem with Sam Billings, who struck 138, he shared a stand of 346 to rescue the visitors from 39-5, the highest sixth-wicket partnership in the history of first-class cricket at Headingley, eclipsing the 252 of Yorkshire’s Craig White and Richard Blakey against Lancashire in 1996, and the highest for that wicket anywhere against Yorkshire, beating the 294 of Douglas Jardine and Percy Fender for Surrey at Bradford in 1928.
In July, Kent announced that Stevens would not be retained after a 14-year association with a club that he joined from Leicestershire in 2005.
Small wonder that they are now considering a U-turn and offering a new deal to a man who last week hit 88 against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in addition to taking match figures of 10-92 which lifted him beyond 500 first-class wickets – not bad for a man nicknamed “The Vicar of Dibbly-Dobbly”.
On a day blessed with glorious late summer sunshine, with barely a cloud in a dreamy blue sky, it was Yorkshire who were in need of a vicar, or at least divine inspiration of some sort, as they wilted in the face of Stevens’s onslaught.
For onslaught it was as he reached his first hundred since May 2017 from 129 balls and then his fourth career double century from another 73 deliveries; in total, Stevens faced 225 balls and struck 28 fours and nine sixes, his score the highest by a Kent batsman against Yorkshire, overtaking David Fulton’s 207 at Maidstone in 1998.
On this evidence, Stevens has got almost as many years left in him as Revis; he hit cleanly through the line on a true batting surface, as did Billings, reduced almost to support act during an innings in which he hit 16 fours and a six among 209 balls faced.
Fittingly, it was Revis who ended Stevens’s display, catching him on the mid-wicket boundary in front of the West Stand off overseas debutant Ajaz Patel, the Yorkshire players sportingly running over to shake Stevens’s hand as he left the field.
Perversely, Yorkshire had started the game impressively. Between 10.30 and 11.15 they were irresistible at times, blasting out half the Kent side as Duanne Olivier took four wickets and Matthew Fisher the other on his return from injury.
Olivier struck twice in the game’s third over, trapping Zak Crawley as he offered no shot before having Ollie Robinson caught behind as he tried to leave.
Olivier’s third wicket in nine balls followed when he bowled his former South Africa captain Faf du Plessis with one that nipped back through the gate, leaving the visitors 8-3.
Kent slipped to 22-4 when Fisher bowled Daniel Bell-Drummond with one that seemed to keep low and then crashed to 39-5 when Olivier pinned Heino Kuhn.
But after the new ball had done its worst, batting became easier and Yorkshire ran out of steam, Kent recovering to 112-5 at lunch with Stevens bringing up his half-century in the last over before the break from 59 balls.
The afternoon session was carnage at times, Kent hammering 204 in 36 overs, 140 of them to Stevens, who took heavy toll on Patel, the New Zealand left-arm spinner.
Stevens launched him for seven sixes all told, Patel’s pre-tea analysis of 10-0-70-0 reading like a particularly poor performance in a one-day game – let alone in a first-class match.
Stevens lost the plot momentarily before tea, offering three chances in quick succession.
Olivier dropped him badly at mid-on off the bowling of Fisher, while Tim Bresnan spilled a skier at cover off Patel.
Gary Ballance then shelled a tough chance diving forward at third man off Olivier before normal service was resumed.
A seventh-wicket stand of 69 in 13 overs between Billings and Ollie Rayner piled on the misery before Billings steered Oliver to gully late in the piece and Fisher castled Harry Podmore.