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.
From Durham’s point of view the season could be over before it has really got started without a big win this weekend. Gloucestershire’s key players, as mentioned, have solid records for Division 2 but, in reality, their squad pales in comparison to Durham. This match really should be seen as a way of kickstarting the year after the disappointing loss to Notts but Durham were handed a further blow this week with Jack Burnham breaking his thumb in a practice session. The extent of his layoff is not yet known but it is more than likely he will miss the entire block of List A matches, news that feels like it ends Durham’s hopes of progressing in that competition. With Burnham out Graham Clark’s inclusion marks the only change to the 13 man squad named against Nottinghamshire. Clark’s unbelievable 3 consecutive hundreds for the 2nd XI against a joint Essex/Kent side and Scotland A means he will probably come straight in at 3 although Cameron Steel may be preferred. This should be the only change and Stephen Cook alongside Michael Richardson will no doubt be desperate to get big runs after their poor showing against Notts.
Overall this match should be a Durham win weather permitting. The difficult thing to call is by just how much Durham can make their superiority show. With Notts out the way every remaining fixture in the County Championship will see Durham as strong favourites on paper, the players need to be ruthless and target the wins needed to surge up the table.
Gloucestershire: Bancroft, Dent, Tavare, van Buuren, Hankins, Mustard, Taylor, Miles, Payne, Norwell.
Durham: Cook, Jennings, Clark, Richardson, Collingwood, Coughlin, Pringle, Poynter, Wood, Onions, Rushworth.