Stevens, the vicar of Dibbly-Dobbly, leaves Sussex without a prayer

Kent369 (Denly 119, Wiese 3-54, Philander 3-78) and 116 for 0 (Bell-Drummond 68*) lead Sussex 164 (Stevens 5-40, Harris 3-37) by 321 runs

Darren Stevens’ ageless performance has put Kent in command at Tunbridge Wells © Getty Images

Darren Stevens rumbles to the wicket like a taxi-driver bilked of a good fare and in warm pursuit of the miscreant. The ball, when it emerges from one of his many skilful grips, is travelling at little more than 70 miles per hour; yet it swings and seams with the craft of the ages. Five Sussex batsmen were baffled and beaten by Stevens’ ruseful cunning on the second day of this match, bringing his total of championship wickets for the season to 29 at an average of 12.08 and suggesting the conclusion that he is the best medium-pacer in the land. Stevens is the Vicar of Dibbly-Dobbly.

If such an accolade seems even faintly derogatory, that is not one’s intention. (Perhaps a bishopric would better reflect our subject’s stature and eminence.) Stevens takes the new ball for Kent and his bowling against the Sussex batsmen, most of whom could make nothing of him, was one the best things seen this glad season. He has now taken five wickets on 16 occasions in first-class cricket, all of them since celebrating his 35th birthday.

Stevens is 41 and his powers show no sign of declining. As much as the centurion, Joe Denly, he is responsible for Kent being in utter control of this game, a position they strengthened by establishing a 205-run first-innings lead and extending it to 321 without the loss of a wicket by stumps. Only a cheek-cracking, steeple-drenching tempest on one of the last two days will make the decision not to enforce the follow-on look foolish.

But for all the serenities of Kent’s batting on the second evening, this was Stevens’ day, albeit one on which he was helped a trifle by the conditions at the Nevill Ground. There was rain at breakfast time and the air remained heavy and very faintly tropical. Droplets of water fell from the trees as they threshed in the fresh breeze and this added to the mildly subcontinental atmosphere; it even recalled a more distant age when, so some of the stories go, this Regency spa was a favoured haunt of colonial governors with their fearsome curries and crested ties. The day remained a trifle steamy deep into the morning and this is often advantageous to bowlers of Stevens’ pace.

But the session had been crammed with good things for Kent ever since the first ball of the day when Adam Rouse’s square cut off Vernon Philander offered the crowd a rifle-shot reveille to their day’s cricket. Rouse followed that blow with two more fours in very short order and was probably a trifle unfortunate to be given out leg before to the final ball of that same over. He trooped off with 44 good runs against his name and some say he was rubbing his thigh pad. James Tredwell and Matt Coles ensured that Kent collected a fourth batting point before Chris Jordan ended the innings.

Sussex’s reply began poorly and was never off the danger list after James Harris’s second ball of the innings nipped back and plucked out Chris Nash’s off stump. The batsman looked a little bemused at his dismissal but that was nothing to the general confusion when Stevens moved into full throttle. That began in the seventh over when Luke Wells pushed defensively at a ball of good length but only edged a catch to Coles at second slip. Twenty-five minutes later, Finch, whom Stevens had tortured for most of his 30-ball innings, received two outswingers followed by an in-ducker. Peter Hartley’s lbw decision was almost merciful.

As if to add variety to the home crowd’s entertainment, Coles took the fourth wicket when Luke Wright’s slash nicked a catch high to second slip’s left. Such chances frequently fly to the boundary unmolested but Tredwell dived and held the bullet two-handed. Such catches win games and shape seasons. It reminded one of the days when Ian Botham stood at second slip for England with the air of a man who could slay the Stymphalian birds before breakfast.

Even lunch at Tunbridge Wells might have seemed like hard commons for Sussex’s cricketers but things got worse for them on the resumption. Stevens, whose figures had at one stage read 8-5-9-2, splattered Michael Burgess’s stumps when the batsman attempted a loose drive, probably out of desperation. Jordan lasted eight balls before he simply played across the line, which is almost always an error against a bowler whose line is so tight. “Jordan has disturbed the scorers because I’ve got to put his nought up as last man,” said one of the scoreboard men with impish glee.

For his last trick Stevens persuaded the resolute left-hander Stiaan van Zyl to play inside one which drifted away. There was another tumble of ash and Sussex were 109 for 7. Stevens ended his 17-over spell, which admittedly had been bridged by luncheon, with figures of 5 for 40. There was great applause, of course, and the ovation was repeated at the end of the innings when the smiling bowler produced the ball from his pocket and waved it to the crowd. He had scarcely bowled a delivery which did not require a response and here he was again, knowing exactly what he should do with a cricket ball.

The end of Stevens’ spell was followed by something of a siesta as Philander and David Wiese added 55 good runs in 17 overs. Any hopes of further resistance, though, were quickly ended as Sussex lost their last three wickets in 11 balls. Tredwell had Philander snapped up at slip by Coles before Harris removed Wiese and Archer with successive deliveries. Most of the crowd then watched the final session in blissful contentment. The many hundreds of trees, most of which have seen all 55 Kent v Sussex matches on this ground, buffeted each other in the gentle breeze, as if giggling at Kentish dominance. It will take batting beyond the merely resolute for Sussex to save this game; with Stevens in such delicious form, one cannot fancy their chances.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications

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Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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