Stevens provides slice of comfort

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The Independent Online

With rain having already reduced this match by 130 overs it was imperative that play should start promptly if there was to be any chance of a positive result. But plenty of rain overnight and some drizzle during the morning pushed the start back to 12 o'clock and consigned the sparse crowd to an exhibition of cricket devoid of passion or real purpose.

It would be easy to blame the players but, in truth, sitting around in damp dressing rooms for long periods just killing time drains their energy and enthusiasm. Thankfully it is still April, because after five months on the road together they would probably start killing each other.

Even the arrival of the cricketing nomad, Phil DeFreitas, at the crease failed to inject any discernible adrenalin into proceedings. His acrimonious departure from Derbyshire at the end of last season allowed him to return to his original county, and it was in keeping with the soulless nature of the day that, when he eased Leicestershire past the follow-on target with a glorious cover drive followed by a straight drive, he received neither a cheer nor a jeer for his efforts.

DeFreitas continued to strike the ball well and continued on to reach 79 before charging Rob Bailey and being stumped. But the interest in batting was in the morning when Darren Stevens, 24 today, had demonstrated a rare ability to time the ball, whatever the pace of the pitch, that suggested he could make a definite impact during the season.

Balanced beautifully in his stance, he moves his feet quickly into position and strikes the ball effortlessly, his hands moving through the line of the ball. He has a full repertoire of shots, off both front and back foot, and, importantly, scores his runs quickly.

However, like many stroke players, shot selection is Stevens' weakness - a point perfectly demonstrated when he dragged a wide and innocuous delivery from Paul Aldred on to his stumps.

Jack Birkenshaw, Leicestershire's cricket manager, is fully aware of this but believes that Stevens has the potential to play for England one day. "This is a big season for him and could be the season when people sit up and take notice," he said.

"When he plays straight, there is nobody that times it better or hits it more cleanly in the game," he continued. High praise, indeed, from one so knowledgeable, but it is revealing that he bats at No 6. In batting terms that is right bang in the middle of the comfort zone, where the ball is usually old and the wicket has had its sting drawn. If he really is to progress he will need to go up the order, ply his trade more at the business end of things.

Dominic Cork tried to rally his team in the field but, still suffering the after effects of gastric flu, even his personality and histrionics seemed somewhat damp. He did bowl a testing spell to Neil Burns, the former Somerset wicket-keeper, a succession of short balls troubling the left-hander, and he had earlier tempted Chris Lewis into a tame pull shot to the man at fine-leg. There was another fielder lurking at deep square but Lewis seemed preoccupied with traps of another kind.

With so many games rain affected, the pursuit of bonus points took on a special significance. Come September, an extra wicket taken or few runs scored in a match could dramatically affect both these sides' attempts to remain in the top Division.

Burns and DeFreitas extended their partnership to over a hundred, and more importantly added a fifth bonus point to equal the amount garnered by Derbyshire, but their dismissals in rapid succession gave the home side a slight victory in that they took one more point from the game.

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