Stevo Day provides fitting backdrop as Kent confirm Division One survival

Kent 405 for 7 (Muyeye 85, Crawley 79, Robinson 52, Aldridge 4-83) lead Somerset 202 (Goldsworthy 94, Gilchrist 6-61) by 203 runs

It was fitting that, at the end of Stevo Day, Kent’s Division One status was confirmed for another season. Needing 10 points to stay up on games won in the event of Warwickshire achieving a full 24-point win over Hampshire, Kent achieved eight bonus points within the first two days of their final match at Canterbury, bowling Somerset out for 202 inside 64 overs then responding with 405 for 7 after 88 overs. By the time they walked off on Tuesday for bad light at 5:35pm, news filtered through from Edgbaston that the hosts had declared on 272 for 4 to counter the weather, thus giving up three batting points.

There was no real celebration from the Kent dressing room, or those few braving the September chill by the time stumps were eventually called at 5:55pm. Players and fans have been dismayed at just how badly things have gone with the red ball this season. Nevertheless, they have come good when the pressure was on. As things stand, they could still finish fifth.

What emotion there was today was saved for Darren Stevens, given a final, rousing farewell at the lunch interval. He, by all accounts, managed to hold back the tears. As expected.

Those at Kent County Cricket Club who have known him for all or the majority of his 18 seasons at the club know it takes a lot to draw that kind of emotion from the great man. It has only got harder, perhaps because we get more vulnerable with age, particularly at 46. And rallying against vulnerability of any kind has driven Stevens in these final years at Canterbury.

The eyes, however, did fill. Again, as expected. At the lunch interval on Tuesday, Stevens walked through a guard of honour made up of current Kent players and staff. A video showcasing some of Stevens’ highlights – all of them would have taken more than the break’s allotted 40 minutes – including this summer’s Royal London Cup success was shown and was presented with a framed shirt bearing his number three, which will be retired. He then embraced friends and family on the field before greeting as many of the 1,042 supporters in attendance who by now were almost falling over the hoardings along the Pavilion End to get a little bit closer to their man as he said his final goodbyes. This was day two of Kent’s final Championship match of the season against Somerset, with Division One safety on the agenda. But this was Stevo Day.

Stevens maintains he could have continued, and though this is the end of an era, at this point, it isn’t quite retirement. And though there remain plenty of fans both at this county and further afield who believe this particular exit premature, it was hard to watch Kent go about their business today and not realise a new generation are building on their promise.

A high-profile win over Hampshire last week to keep survival in their hands has been built on emphatically. Nathan Gilchrist (22 years of age), missed out on a hat-trick with his first ball of the morning but went on to claim the final Somerset wicket – the impressive Lewis Goldsworthy for 94 – for a career-best six to dismiss the visitors for 202. Within 30 overs – up to lunch – Tawanda Muyeye (21) and Zak Crawley (24) had 149 between them (Kent’s third century stand between openers this season). Following further contributions from skipper Jack Leaning (28), a bright half-century from soon-to-be-Durham-bound Ollie Robinson (28), and darts from new signing from Nottinghamshire Joey Evison (20) and Hamidullah Qadri (21), 400 was passed and relegation avoided in style. Just in time for a more private audience with Stevens in the Les Ames stand. “He might have had a couple of beers to loosen him up and give a nice speech,” joked Crawley, before heading over to join his teammates.

Crawley’s knock of 79 from 102 deliveries set the tone – particularly the first 50, which took just 59 deliveries thanks to nine fours, five of which came in the space of six deliveries. It felt like an extension of the form he finally found in the last Test match, against South Africa at the Kia Oval, when he finished unbeaten on a match- and series-winning 69.

At the other end, Muyeye was showing just why they rave about him in these parts, wedding an eye for length and quick touch for 85 for only his second Championship half-century of the summer in seven innings. An edge behind off Kasey Aldridge, the pick of the Somerset attack with 4 for 83, left the right-hander short of bettering his previous first-class best of 89. Nevertheless, by the time he departed (190 for 2), the visiting attack had already been put through the wringer.

That opening stand of 176 – scored at 4.76 an over – was as much down to intent as the desire for these two to score at will. The overall equation of survival assured before a definitive match result was something Kent were aware of Warwickshire did not get 350, even though they assumed 350 would be achieved. But Kent still had plenty to do, and Crawley and Muyeye were keen to set the tone.

“‘Intent’ was the word we used a lot with each other,” said Crawley. “We kept their good balls out and put their bad balls away. And T (Muyeye) batted brilliantly. For someone so young to put a good bowling attack to the sword like that was class.”

Particularly evident was how Somerset, who used seven bowlers within the first 25 overs, struggled to adjust their lengths. While both Crawley and Muyeye are right-handers, the height difference of about a foot meant the same length required different fields, which was tough to keep on top of as the strike was rotated so often.

“I feel like we ran really well and had a lot of singles, so they constantly had to mix up the lengths. Because a good length for me, Tawanda’s pulling. And a good length to him, I can drive. We were quite a good partnership like that. He’s a chilled lad so we took a bit of pressure off each other.”

Crawley made a point of mentioning Stevens at this juncture. Part of the great man’s on-field charisma, particularly when he was batting, was seemingly opting for entertainment first: perpetual appointment viewing, whether in the flesh or on a stream. And Crawley, who has always been an engaging batter – hence why Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes are so enamoured with him at Test level, even in a summer of famine – felt a sense of pride that they were able to take a page out of Stevens’ book today.

“I was thinking of Stevo before this game, and exactly how he’s always played – try and take the game on, try and give the crowd something to watch. That’s exactly how we want to play our cricket and there was plenty of crowd here loving how we play our cricket.

“We’ve got a lot of young players who are really good prospects. The next ten years should be good, hopefully.”

It was worth noting the attendance from first to second session dropped considerably. Many had simply turned up to bid Stevens farewell before getting on with the rest of their day. Life moves on, cricket moves on. As will Kent, into another season of Division One cricket.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo


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