With the County Championship feeling like the priority for Durham this season the upcoming block of eight one day matches seem like a pointless distraction. With the -2 start in the north group Durham will probably need to win six out of eight games to get the ten points required to get into the top three. Unlike previous years the competition will now feature two playoffs instead of eight quarter finals, likely a trial run for the format of the proposed regional t20 tournament, so just three teams will make it through the group. If winning six out of eight games was not daunting enough a task Durham go into this year’s competition with a far smaller squad and a couple of key absentees.
Last year Durham made sure to use their squad depth in the one day cup. Phil Mustard, Jamie Harrison and Callum MacLeod who all made regular appearances have been released. Gordon Muchall has retired and one day captain Mark Stoneman abandoned the club alongside Scott Borthwick. In addition to these losses Jack Burnham’s broken thumb means he will likely miss every game and bowling all-rounder Usman Arshad is also a doubt for the group stage. In terms of international absentees, Barry McCarthy has been named as part of the Ireland squad to face England and he will be coming up against Mark Wood. The result of this is that Durham’s one day line-up will have a very different look, particularly at the top of the order, and Durham will have to look to youngsters to help reduce the workload of the bowlers.
Durham’s first trip to Bristol in the County Championship since 2003 proved to be an incredibly frustrating affair. It was a slow pitch that did not offer much for the bowlers throughout the four days but Durham could not show their superiority with the ball. Like the Notts game the result was defined by fine margins. A 45 run 10th wicket partnership between David Payne and Chris Liddle took any hopes of a positive result away but Durham should really have ended Gloucestershire’s hopes on the third day after they took a 116 run lead.
On Friday, throughout all the County Championship fixtures, away teams rejecting the toss was commonplace due to overcast weather. Durham were no exception and after taking Cameron Bancroft’s wicket cheaply, Gloucestershire’s Australian overseas player, it looked as if the four man pace attack of Rushworth, Onions, Wood and Carse would prove too good. However the men in form Chris Dent and Will Tavare put on a frustrating partnership and the lack of penetration with the ball in these key moments would define Durham’s match. In the end in was Paul Collingwood, bringing himself on before lunch who made a double breakthrough. After lunch it was then Jennings who proved most effective with the ball, taking the wickets of Phil Mustard and Craig Miles in consecutive deliveries. Mark Wood toiled throughout the game and would end up taking just one wicket in both innings. He did show good pace and appears to be on the way back to full fitness but did not show his international class in the same way as James Pattinson did last week for Nottinghamshire. With Wood today called up in England’s Champions Trophy squad it seems the county will not see the best of him this season.
Pre-season title favourites South Northumberland and Benwell Hill sealed their second wins as two Durham CC veterans rolled back the years in Division 1.
Eppleton beat Felling by 100 runs.
Eppleton secured a comfortable win thanks to Marcus Brown’s 80 and Craig Scurr’s rapid 46 from 20 balls, setting Felling 258 to win. Right arm medium bowler Joseph Coyne, who has previously played for Durham’s 2nd XI and Northumberland took 5-40 as Felling could only manage 157 all out in response.
South Northumberland beat South Shields by 1 wicket.
The pitch inspectors might be taking an interest in this thriller as the bowlers ran riot. Jonny Wightman took 5-15 as South Shields were all out for 78. Chris Stewart took 4 for 33 and Matthew Muchall 3 for 33 for South Shields but this was not enough thanks to Adam Cragg’s captains innings. When Cragg was joined by Michael Craigs the South North score was 59-7. The pair put on a crucial 17 or the eighth wicket, taking their team to within three runs of victory, despite Craigs scoring no runs from 14 balls in this partnership. Scotland international Calum MacLeod got a duck for South North in their chase.
County Championship. Gloucestershire v Durham at Bristol. April 21-24.
It is rare that a game so early in the calendar can feel so vital, but with a reduced 14 game season and 45 points still to make up to break even Durham go to Bristol knowing they need not just to win, but put in a dominating performance. It is the first time that Durham have played a first class match at Bristol since 2003 when Gloucestershire won by 126 runs thanks to two Jonty Rhodes centuries. So long ago that Graham Onions had not yet made his debut and coach John Lewis was captain. That match also featured a 23-year-old Phil Mustard, and the Durham legend will now play against his home side for the first time as he will line up as captain for his new side Gloucestershire.
Mustard, who went on loan to the south west side at the back end of last season joined permanently following his contract expiry. The quality and experience he brings to the Division 2 stalwarts can be immediately seen by the fact he has been made captain with the absence of usual skipper Gareth Roderick. The colonel also seems to have found some form following his 72 last week against Leicestershire. Looking at the rest of the line-up there are less familiar faces for Durham fans. Cameron Bancroft stands out at the top of the order as he is a much talked about batsman from Western Australia and his 9 first class hundreds at 24 years old shows potential. Aside from him Will Tavare, nephew of Chris, is one to look out for with the bat as he is coming off a hundred against Leicestershire and in their warm up against Durham MCCU. With the ball Gloucestershire’s two best talents come in the form of right arm seamers Liam Norwell and Craig Miles. Norwell’s fine form is evidenced by his match figures of 10-99 in his sides innings victory over Leicestershire. I am sure that these two bowlers will be looking to learn from and outshine Durham’s Rushworth and Onions in this match.
The first round of the North East Premier League took place on Saturday the 15th of April and unsurprisingly there were stand out performances from the Scottish international stars and many Durham 2nd XI players.
South Northumberland beat Stockton by 8 wickets.
Ryan Wallace was the major contributor for Stockton as he put on 67 of his sides 180 all out. The experience of Simon Birtwisle proved too much for the Teessiders with the ball as he took 4 for 42. South Northumberland, the title favourites, cruised to victory in 30.3 overs with Calum MacLeod showing his class with 111 from 87 balls. MacLeod, who was released by Durham in the summer, will surely prove to be two good for this level as he looks to find form for Scotland’s fixtures against Sri Lanka in May and the International Champions Cup clash against Namibia in June. George Harding played for Stockton in this game but took no wickets, he was however named in the Durham 2nd XI squad to face Scotland A this week.
Eppleton beat Newcastle by 2 wickets
In a close encounter Newcastle’s 235 was not enough in the end. Ben McGee was their standout with the bat due to his 91 but Joseph Coyne’s 53 and Marcus Brown’s 42 for Eppleton was enough to see them achieve victory. Cameron Steel, who was part of Durham’s County Championship squad against Nottinghamshire managed just 5 for Newcastle as he looks to press for his debut for the county.
Durham got the season off to a poor start as they were defeated at Chester-le-Street for the first time since September 2015. The gap of 89 points to Notts has deflated some of the early optimism about the chances of a promotion push but the reality is this was a game of fine margins and did not reveal much about how the squad will fare against the rest of the division.
Throughout the match, Durham faced the worst of the batting conditions, a floodlit first day and an overcast last session on day two which decided the result. Notts on the other hand made the most of the seamer friendly gloom and found themselves batting in bright sunshine throughout the second day. The other difference maker was the ability of Notts tail to pick up runs and a lack of ruthlessness from Durham’s seamers after taking three quick wickets at the end of the first day. In the preview, it was highlighted how in Notts’ victory over Derbyshire it was Pattinson and Broad who were the main contributors with the bat and this repeated itself with Luke Fletcher equalling is career best 92 as a night watchman and Pattinson scoring his second consecutive half century. If both of these tail enders had been dismissed for their average Notts would have had over 100 less runs on the board and Durham would have been favourites on the final day. Despite this, and perhaps most frustratingly for Durham, they were about an hour away from finding a draw in the match as the rain came down on Monday afternoon. If Durham are going to dominate against the rest of the division they will need Cook, Burnham and Richardson to provide greater support for Keaton Jennings, who continues be a run machine.
County Championship. Durham v Notts at the Emirates Riverside. April 14-17.
While there may have been a few County Championship matches over the last weekend the season truly begins on Friday with Nottinghamshire traveling to the Emirates Riverside. Despite the injustices of last year and the -48 point start that is casting a large shadow over the new season there is still room for optimism and excitement at Chester-le-Street. In separate interviews since the club’s media day last week coach John Lewis, Graham Onions and Paul Collingwood have talked up chances of achieving promotion this year and when comparing the quality of Durham’s squad with the rest of the division it does feel as if only the weather will stop a serious challenge.
A further reason for excitement around the Notts game in particular is the fact that, for both counties, this is likely to be the most competitive game of the season. Nottinghamshire have already put Leicestershire to the sword (despite a heroic performance from former Durham allrounder Ben Raine) in a display which highlighted just how effective their bowling attack will be with the addition of Australian international James Pattinson as well as the potential appearance of Jake Ball and Stuart Broad, who Notts are appealing to England to release for the game. However, while Notts’ cruise against Leicestershire emphasises the quality of their seam bowling it did perhaps mask their weaknesses at the top order with the only half centuries in the side coming from the aforementioned Pattinson and Broad who put on a crucial 122 runs for the eighth wicket.