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.
For the duration of the competition captain Keaton Jennings and Stephen Cook will be the opening combination. Cook, while predominantly being a red ball player, has a good List A record and while less aggressive than Mark Stoneman will hopefully provide some stability which was lacking last year when collapses were very common. Jennings will also have his first full run as an opener in Durham’s one day team as, until the departure of Phil Mustard, he was used in the lower order. Nothing seems to phase Keaton however and his one day opening credentials were proven with his unbeaten hundred on his debut for the England Lions in the winter. In the middle order things get slightly more uncertain. It should be expected that Paul Collingwood, Michael Richardson and Graham Clark will feature regularly. Cameron Steel will also be an option, particularly handy due to his legspin, although there are also cases to be made for Ryan Pringle and Stuart Poynter being promoted up the order for this format. Paul Coughlin, who will be vice-captain, is also likely to come into the side at number 6 although his games will have to be managed due to his injury history. Looking at the 2nd XI the only batsman who could play a part is Adam Hickey who has shown reasonable form so far this season. Hickey’s bowling may give him an even greater chance of coming into the team at some point.
In terms of the bowling do not expect Graham Onions to play although Chris Rushworth, barring injury, will be nailed on for all eight group matches. Mark Wood and Barry McCarthy will hopefully be available for the first two fixtures before the are taken away by England and Ireland, although Wood is a slight injury concern for Derbyshire. Otherwise Brydon Carse and Paul Coughlin are the only other seaming options from the Championship squad. This means there is a great chance for James Weighell, the 2nds captain, to make his mark after some impressive performances before his injury last season. Josh Coughlin could also see himself be pushed into regular first team cricket if Brydon Carse and Paul Coughlin are rotated. For spin Durham will probably look to get ten overs out of Ryan Pringle as well as utilising Steel or Hickey in the middle overs. Keaton Jennings and Paul Collingwood will also need to prove effective with the ball if Durham are going to stand a chance of winning games.
The first fixture for Durham is Derbyshire at Chester-le-Street on the 27th. Last year Durham were beaten and, in what would become a trend, collapsed to 75-7 before a Pringle inspired recovery and 62 run 10th wicket stand took the score to 216. Similar collapses were also seen against Northamptonshire and Worcestershire. If Durham are going to be successful in one day cricket this year it is vital that Stephen Cook and Keaton Jennings can build a successful platform and for further solidity Cameron Steel could come into the side at number 3. Derbyshire will have to be one of the six games Durham win as defeat in the first game will, as in the Championship, make a successful campaign feel impossible. Durham’s next fixture is against Warwickshire who will be looking to bounce back after a shocking start to their season as they attempt to defend their one day cup title. Then Yorkshire at Headingly, a very tough game which feels like it will be near impossible to win without the star factor of Mark Wood. Hopefully then, Durham will go into the match against Leicestershire with two wins out of three and look to defeat as a victory at South Northumberland and then against Northamptonshire at Chester-le-Street would make qualification seem realistic. If Durham go into the last three group matches against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, against Worcestershire at New Road and at home against Lancashire needing three wins they are in big trouble.
To be honest a likely scenario is that Durham will be out of contention after the game at Headingley. While disappointing, this would give Durham the opportunity to give opportunities to the likes of Hickey, Weighell and Josh Coughlin. Due to the nature of the top order Durham cannot afford to lose more than two wickets in the first ten overs in any match. The biggest chance of victory is for Poynter and Pringle to not be needed until the last ten, from which they can up the scoring rate.
Predicted lineup for Derbyshire: Cook, Jennings, Clark, Collingwood, Steel, Pringle, P Coughlin, Poynter, McCarthy, Carse, Rushworth.
Predicted alternate lineup: Cook, Jennings, Steel, Clark, Pringle, P Coughlin, Richardson, Hickey, Weighell, J Coughlin, Rushworth.