'Who doesn't love putting on a show?'
Kent cricketer Darren Stevens made his debut in first-class cricket before Tony Blair became British prime minister. A quarter of a century later he shows no signs of slowing down.
Stevens, 46 later this month, is bouncily optimistic as he prepares for the start of his 26th season in the English county game on Thursday, despite icy spring temperatures and snow flurries.
The all-rounder, who began his career with Leicestershire in 1997, has enjoyed some of his finest moments in recent years with both bat and ball.
He hit a career-best 237 against Yorkshire in 2019 and the following season took 29 wickets at an eye-catching average of just over 15.5 in the inaugural Bob Willis Trophy.
Cricketing "bible" Wisden recognised his feats in 2021, naming him as one of its cricketers of the year.
The ageless Stevens showed he had lost none of his magic touch last year -- smashing 15 sixes in a barnstorming innings of 190 and later in the season helping Kent win the Twenty20 Blast for a second time.
So what motivates the Leicester-born player, who narrowly missed out on winning an England cap?
"The game itself," he tells AFP, sitting on a bench at Kent's Canterbury home ground dedicated to his late father, Bob Stevens.
"It's a beautiful game, it's an amazing game. For us, we're classed as entertainers so you put on a show. Who doesn't love putting on a show?
"I'm passionate about the game and I just love batting and I love bowling."
Stevens enjoyed a successful stint with England's second-tier Lions team in a 2010 triangular series against India A and West Indies A, averaging nearly 80 with the bat.
But he never received a full international cap whereas other players alongside him in that team, including Alastair Cook and Chris Woakes, went on to enjoy successful England careers.
"It's frustrating when you see a lot of people that have played or are playing," he said. "It's like you mirror yourself to their job and what they do and it's a bit frustrating but it is what it is."
But Stevens' sanguine approach belies a fierce competitive edge.
He had to fight his way back into Kent's T20 plans after he was told he was surplus to requirements, proving his worth last year as they beat Somerset in the final.
Although he is a cult hero in the county game, Stevens' name has also been invoked in the debate over the weak state of English cricket after the recent disastrous Ashes defeat against Australia.
Former captain Michael Vaughan argued that success for the 45-year-old illustrated a lack of competitive edge in the English county game.
But the all-rounder, who bowls right-arm medium pace, shrugs off the criticism.
"It doesn't bother me," he said. "He can have his opinion. Everyone can have their own opinion. My job is to get wickets for Kent."
- 'Stevo's gonna get ya' -
Stevens may have missed out on an international cap but he is certainly on the radar of the Australian internationals who have plied their trade in the English county game -- they even set up a WhatsApp group called "Stevo's gonna get ya".
"It's funny. I played golf with (Australian Test player) Travis Head last year.
"He's a good mate and we were on the course and he showed me a text from one of the lads saying 'Stevo's going to get you, ha, ha' and I got him (when playing against Sussex)."
The evergreen all-rounder cannot wait for the new season to start, saying he is "more buzzy" now than when he was a young player.
"As everybody says and as all the old pros that coach now when I go and play against teams and I have a good catch-up with them -- all of them are 'long-time retired mate, don't do it'."
So how much longer can he resist the march of Father Time?
"I can see myself playing next year, because if I don't think like that my body will shut down and I'll probably finish tomorrow, so my mindset is I'm still ready to play next year," he said.
"In my mind there's no reason why I should finish."