Tonight Durham play the biggest match of their season. Victory at Northamptonshire will send Durham to Twenty20 Cup Finals Day for only the second time in their history.
For a county that has never won the competition, it is a big deal. Fit-again captain Paul Collingwood just hopes they do not treat it like one.
Durham are in this position because since being all-but eliminated from the competition they went on a run of four straight wins which allowed them to sneak through to the knockout stages as one of the best third-placed teams.
“We’ve got to go in full of confidence,” says Collingwood, who made his comeback from a lacerated thumb in the County Championship game at Middlesex at the weekend.
“We’ve always been hit and miss in that format of the game but this run of form was crucial.
“I think the situation we were in almost kind of relaxed us in a funny kind of way. We were just thinking, ‘We’re not going to make it,’ so we just went out and expressed ourselves.
“We’ve just got to make sure when the pressure’s on we continue that mindset.
“I think the boys really improved throughout the campaign. We gathered momentum.
“If you look at our performances in the end we really deserved to get into the quarter-finals.
“(Ben) Stokes, Breesey (Gareth Breese) and the bowlers did a fantastic job.”
Collingwood led England to their only major trophy at the World Twenty20 Championships in 2010. While attention to detail is a key plank of his 20-over captaincy, the others are refreshingly simple.
Durham’s players now have clearly defined roles – something which has not always been the case – and the freedom to take risks, Collingwood argues: “It’s crucial in this format of the game more than any other to understand your role and everybody else’s.
“If you’ve got the backing of your team-mates there’s no nervousness. Usually when you have a team as talented as ours you will come off more often than not.”
Durham’s caution cost them badly at their only Finals Day, where Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s inability to up the run rate set Middlesex a semi-final run-chase they strolled to with embarrassing ease. It is a mistake Collingwood does not want to see repeated in the glare of the television cameras at Wantage Road tonight,
“We’re wanting to be a more positive side than a conservative one – not to the point of being reckless, but not like at Hampshire five years ago either,” Collingwood says.
“It takes a lot of courage to be positive but we’ve got a team that can do that.
“We’ve got guys who can clear the (boundary) ropes and you’ve got to utilise that.”
Collingwood’s return will mean a change to the side which was unchanged through the last four victories. Michael Richardson is the player most under threat.
“It’s usually a pretty good pitch there,” says Collingwood, who spent yesterday practicing at Lord’s nursery ground after Durham’s Championship match against Middlesex finished a day early. “I’ve had plenty of thoughts about how we’re going to change the team, but I’ll keep them to myself.
“The important thing is you try not to disrupt things too much.”
Northamptonshire qualified as winners of the Midlands group, winning seven of their group games as compared to six for Durham. They have three players – Graeme White, Mohammad Azharullah and David Willey – in the top five bowling averages for 2013.
The head of steam Durham had been building up was released slightly at Lord’s, where poor batting saw them fall to a three-day defeat in a game where the bowlers overwhelmingly held sway.
“The batting was a real disappointment but I thought we bowled and fielded superbly well,” Collingwood reflected.
DURHAM (from): Stoneman, Mustard (wk), Borthwick, Collingwood (c), Stokes, Muchall, Smith, Breese, Pringle, Richardson, Rushworth, Onions, Wood.