Durham v Nottinghamshire, LVCC Division 1 Tues 17th-19th September
Durham clinched the biggest prize in County Cricket and with a game to spare by beating Notts inside three days. This is Durham’s third County Championship title in six seasons and perhaps the most satisfying – definitely the most surprising.
Widely tipped for relegation by the national sports media it was partly a win against the odds but also shows the depth of talent the Durham Academy has produced. With respect to the other domestic competitions this is the one cricket fans want the most as well as the trophy that cements a side’s place in history.
Where to begin?
To be honest before the game began we knew we’d as good as clinched the title after the dramatic win over Derbyshire the previous week, at the same time as second place Yorkshire had been frustrated by the weather to draw against Sussex. I wasn’t at the Derbyshire game and on Day 4 I have to admit I hadn’t even checked the score whilst watching United v. Villa in the pub, such was the certainty of the game finishing as a draw.
Incredibly Derbyshire had been bowled out for 63 to allow us to chase down an easy target and take 22 points. That left Durham knowing a win in their final home game would as good as clinch the title even if Yorkshire managed to win their final two games. Even a draw and a few extra bonus points looked likely to be enough Before the fans had settled into their seats for Day 1 of the Notts game the away side were tottering and were embarrassingly bowled out before lunch for 78 in 26 overs. As they were due to play in the 40 over final at Lords on the Saturday an early start of 10.15 was in place to allow them to leave early on the Friday if necessary and this may have caught some supporters out who were just settling into their seats to find Notts almost out by noon. Durham also struggled early on in their first innings losing five wickets fairly cheaply, but a strong partnership between captain Paul Collingwood and keeper Phil Mustard took Durham to a decent total of 256, all out an hour into day two. Colly was left stranded on 88 not out but received a standing ovation as he made his way back to the pavilion, as much for recognition of his superb captaincy this season as it was for his batting performance.
Surely nothing could go wrong now and even though Notts put up a better fight of it in their second innings they suffered a collapse and by the end of Day 2 were all out for 246, a lead of 68. It looked at this stage as if Durham would claim the extra half hour to knock off their small victory target there and then, but after batting out one over, players and umpires agreed to come back on Day 3 to finish the job.
There was a jubilant atmosphere at the members forum that evening with stand in coach Jon Lewis receiving praise for his continuation of the good work done by head coach Geoff Cook before his illness.
Day 3 begin with rain as forecast, but as Durham only needed roughly an hour in theory to reach their target fans weren’t too concerned, and as predicted the rain cleared and the outfield was mopped up in time for a 1.30 start. Durham then knocked off the required runs for the loss of two wickets, with Mark Stoneman and Will Smith the two not out batsmen embracing in the middle. Yorkshires result was now irrelevant and the fans began to celebrate. The trophy was presented in front of the members pavilion with Paul Collingwood giving the victory speech and sharing the trophy and champagne with his jubilant side.
The only slight sadness to the day was the knowledge that it was our last (home)day of cricket this season and until April, with only an away trip to Sussex to come, and that some of the players would be turning out for the last time before being released due to our reduced budget for next season and onwards.
After the presentation was wrapped up and player interviews for local news took place we strolled round to Austins bar at the ground to enjoy some celebratory pints of Marstons Pedigree. There were loud cheers when the TV text was put onto the big screen in the bar to show Durham proudly sitting clear at the top of the table. A round of applause rang out when a slightly sheepish Geoff Cook appeared at the bar for a drink, a thank you from the fans for all his good work over the years both with the first time and the academy as well as relief to see him well and up and about after his heart scare. After a few goodbyes and until next seasons amongst fans and staff we made our way to Chester front Street to sink a few more pints.
Over the course of the season it has been a fantastic team effort, 10 wins from 15 matches at this stage being record equalling in the current format of the competition. The player of the season will likely come from one of Scott Borthwick, Graham Onions, Chris Rushworth or maybe Mark Stoneman. I voted for Borthwick due to his successful batting in his new role at number three but Onions would also be a very worthy winner for his consistently superb bowling despite England overlooking him again for the winter Ashes series. Sixty six wickets also make him the seasons leading wicket taker. Stoneman has had his best season yet as opener and has filled the void supposedly left when prolific aussie batsman Michael Di Venuto left the club. Academy products Arshad, Mark Wood and Jamie Harrison all look the real deal as bowlers, now and in future seasons. Ben Stokes bowling has come on strongly this season and he has received an Ashes call up for Englands winter tour. Phil Mustard, skipper before Paul Collingwood has been as loud and supportive of the team behind the stumps as ever as well as batting in his usual entertaining style. Disappointment in the 20-20 and Pro 40 competitions now seems irrelevant.
It’s also one in the eye for the critics who backed fashionable Surrey to win the title (bottom and relegated) and us to go down due to the absence of big names (they hadn’t bothered to research our players.)
Not sure if this is confirmed, but the County Champions usually travel to Abu Dhabi for the season opener, could be fun.
Happy Days, already can’t wait for next season to see if we can do it again.