With four games played Durham have made a superb start as they look to overcome their two-point deduction and make the top three. In the preview to the one day cup it was stressed how Durham’s top order were going to have to be incredibly consistent to give the side any chance of winning consistently but they have exceeded expectations as Stephen Cook, Keaton Jennings and Michael Richardson are all in the overall top ten run scorers in the competition. As things stand Durham sit in fifth position on three points but with a very healthy net run rate. The equation is quite simple really, Durham are going to need to win three out of their last four games to give themselves a great chance of going through and as things stand the team would have to be confident of achieving that.
The first game of the tournament was a forgettable rain affected draw with Derbyshire, but did hint at what was to come for Durham. Cook and Jennings put on 47 for the first wicket before Jennings and Richardson batted through rain interruptions to bring the score to 168-2 when Jennings was stumped for 79. Michael Richardson, who has flourished at number three (an unforeseen consequence of Jack Burnham’s broken thumb), finished on 83* when the game was called off. This was Richardson’s highest List A score at the time. Hopefully this abandoned game will not come back to bite Durham as if it had been a win the table would look even brighter.
The next two games were seen as the two biggest tests in the group this year. Back to back away trips to Edgbaston and Headingley. However, Durham continued their batting form against Warwickshire, scoring 313-5 in a game reduced to 39 overs. An incredible score, anchored by a magnificent 139 (101) from captain Keaton Jennings as well as further contributions from Cook 60 (57), and Richardson 49 (44). The ability of the top three to begin each innings comfortably scoring at a run a ball has been very impressive and has underpinned their success. Now Durham had the chance to bowl for the first time in the tournament and Wood and Rushworth did the damage early, removing Porterfield, Hain and Bell in the first ten overs as Warwickshire struggled to keep the required run rate down. These early breakthroughs allowed for Paul Coughlin, Paul Collingwood and James Weighell to kill the game in the middle overs. Weighell in particular, on what was effectively his List A debut (as he did not get to bowl against Derbyshire), was able to pick up 5-57. Weighell bowled with good pace and a tight line, his form is a huge boost to Durham after he picked up a long-term injury last season and looks to break back into the Championship team.
The trip to Yorkshire also saw the batting flourish with Cook scoring 106, Jennings 72 and Michael Richardson made his maiden List A century, finishing on 100* as he scored 16 runs off the last over from Tim Bresnan to reach his landmark. The eventual score of 335 did not prove to be enough however as Durham ran into a world class Yorkshire batting lineup, in particular a determined Jonny Bairstow who hit 174 (113) to allowed his side to cruise to the total. It is difficult to criticise Durham’s bowlers too heavily as without Mark Wood (who had been stopped from playing by England) there was not enough penetration in the first ten overs. This, combined with Yorkshire’s international top six of Lyth, Bairstow, Root, Handscomb, Balance and Bresnan was always going to make defending any score a challenge. On the bright side, James Weighell picked up another three wickets as he continues to show real promise and George Harding made his debut for the club, although the left arm spinner was not able to be effective.
In the fourth match of the group stage Durham played Leicestershire at Gosforth, the home of South Northumberland CC. Bowling first Weighell again continued his form taking 4-34 from his ten overs. Combined with Rushworth, Coughlin and Collingwood picking up wickets Leicestershire found themselves 127-8. They did well then to push themselves over 200, being finally bowled out in the last over. Durham had little issue chasing down the score despite Jennings scoring less than 50 for the first time in the competition. Cook made 67 and Richardson 51 but it was Paul Collingwood’s 65*, combined with his three wickets, that made him man of the match and sealed the victory with over six overs remaining.
With Worcestershire unbeaten, with three wins and one tie, they look certain to take up one of the top three positions. The other two however remain up for grabs. Yorkshire are in an unstable second as despite their excellent batting lineup against Durham their team will now be ravaged by England callups. Leicestershire in third also seem likely to be heading down rather than up the table and with Nottinghamshire it could go either way. Likely, Durham will need to win three out of the final four matches to win. That means defeating Northants and Lancashire at home as well as one of the trips to Nottinghamshire or Worcestershire. Not an easy task but one which is well within Durham’s capabilities. Northants may well find themselves kingmakers this year as their remaining fixtures (Durham, Yorkshire, Leicestershire an Nottinghamshire) are all against teams gunning for the top three positions. In Durham’s favour is that they have the chance to take points off Notts and Worcestershire as well as the fact that Leicestershire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire will be taking points off each other.
Predicted Lineup v Northants: Cook, Jennings, Richardson, Clark, Collingwood, Coughlin, Steel, Poynter, Weighell, Rushworth, Harding