Veteran Darren Stevens hammers career-best 237 to spur Kent contract talks
Kent 482 for 8 (Stevens 237, Billings 138, Olivier 5-108) v Yorkshire
Darren Stevens continued his bid for a new Kent contract with a quite remarkable career-best 237 to help steer the visitors out of early trouble at 39 for 5 on day one against Yorkshire at Emerald Headingley.
Kent's top order, including South Africa captain Francois du Plessis, was shattered by the pace of Duanne Olivier with the new ball at the start of this battle for third place in the Specsavers County Championship Division One. A Test team-mate of du Plessis' up until the start of the year, Olivier struck four times in a seven-over burst, only for Kent to close on 482 for 8 from 96 overs.
Stevens, 43, united with captain and fellow centurion Sam Billings to share 346 inside 65 overs from mid-morning to mid-evening and change the complexion of this fixture in record-breaking fashion, with 28 fours and nine sixes in 225 balls.
Billings, with 138 off 209, justified his own decision to first of all opt for a toss and then elect to bat with his second successive century.
Speaking at the end of the day, Kent's director of cricket, Paul Downton, congratulated Stevens on his "brilliant achievement" and said the club would be opening talks on an extension.
"Darren has put together some match-winning performances for Kent in recent matches and we would be foolish to ignore his recent form," Downton said. "Obviously, such performances cannot go unnoticed and we'll be sitting down with 'Stevo' after this match to discuss his future. It has been great to see his return to form."
Belligerent Stevens was told in July that Kent would not be offering him a new contract after 15 years with them. But last week they hinted at a u-turn following 10 wickets in the match and a first-innings 88 in the win over Nottinghamshire. This was his first century since May 2017.
Yorkshire made a racing start courtesy of their marquee signing last winter, Olivier, in conditions which were good for batting but helpful for bowlers at 10.30am.
He picked up the prized wicket of former colleague du Plessis, debuting for Kent in red-ball cricket after a short spell in T20 cricket last month. Du Plessis, warming up for a Test series in India next month, was bowled through the gate by an in-ducker as the score fell to 8 for 3 in the fifth over.
Earlier, in the third, Oliver trapped Zak Crawley lbw and had Ollie Robinson caught behind as both men attempted to leave alone.
Olivier's fourth wicket - another compatriot Heino Kuhn, trapped lbw playing forwards - came after Daniel Bell-Drummond lost his off stump to one which kept low from Matthew Fisher in the eighth over. But from five down, Billings, who reached his hundred off 157 balls, and Stevens steadied the ship confidently, with the latter particularly positive as confidence grew.
He successfully hit over the top on the off side on a couple of occasions before launching New Zealand left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel, who took 1 for 119 from 15 overs on debut, for a straight six to reach a 59-ball fifty in the final over before lunch.
Stevens also clipped Steve Patterson for six over midwicket shortly after lunch and hit Patel for another in the same area on the way to a 129-ball century.
Not without luck, he went from 51 to 191 in an afternoon session, which yielded 204 runs in 36 overs. He offered a number of difficult chances, although on 149 offered an easy chance to Olivier off Fisher at mid-on.
The majority of Stevens' sixes came off Patel before holing out to the Kiwi, leaving Kent 385 for 6. The Stevens-Billings alliance was a Kent record sixth-wicket partnership and the highest ever for that wicket on this ground. It was also the highest partnership for any wicket in Championship cricket this season.
Billings was caught in the gully off Olivier late in the day, while Fisher also struck again.