Durham's Twenty20 Cup campaign promises to be a voyage of discovery for their young team.
But yesterday Phil Mustard showed how well he has learned his lessons to guide them to a first win of the season.
With his daft-as-a-brush image, Durham’s wicketkeeper batsman can easily be underestimated. England’s selectors have managed it these last few years and it seemed even some of his own team-mates did when Mustard took on the captaincy no one else wanted.
On occasions no one has done more than Mustard to perpetuate his image, but there is a serious determination behind the clown’s mask. Yesterday the 30-year-old showed all the maturity once missing from his game.
Mustard has spent the last couple of years travelling the world playing winter Twenty20 cricket. As well as providing extra cash to support his young family, it has also taught him some invaluable lessons about the form of the game he is best at.
If a 25-year-old Mustard had been playing against Yorkshire at Scarborough yesterday, Durham would not have claimed the four-wicket win they were able to snatch from the penultimate ball.
Twenty-one-year-old Ryan Pringle had set the game up brilliantly. His four boundary-less overs pulled Yorkshire back from a flying start of 50-0 after 34 balls.
Durham’s only wicket-taker in Friday’s opening defeat to Lancashire, Pringle has quickly looked the part in his first weekend of Twenty20 Cup cricket.
“Pringle’s adapted really well to one-day cricket and Twenty20,” said the old sage Mustard. “He’s quite a foxy bowler and he’s improving game by game.”
Yorkshire openers Gale, and to a lesser extent Lyth, had made a dominant start. Gale came down the pitch to Pringle and played on, while Lyth’s big pull found only fresh air as the youngster rattled the woodwork twice in six deliveries.
“It was strange,” he said. “I bowled it straight and they kept missing it!”
It allowed Pringle to apply a level of control the inexperienced Mark Stoneman was able to maintain after taking over as captain in the ninth over.
Only 30 from 16 balls by another Durham academy graduate, Liam Plunkett, tainted their bowling performance. Thirty-nine runs came from the last three overs, about twice what Mustard had hoped for.
Then it was over to the old heads. Mustard anchored the innings with a mature half-century and Gordon Muchall, striding to the crease with 53 needed from 35 balls, calmly took them over the line.
With 10 overs and Stoneman and Scott Borthwick gone, Mustard looked horribly out of touch. Nineteen from 31 deliveries was a painfully slow knock by his express standards.
The more impetuous Mustard would have thrown his wicket away before it ever got to that stage.
“I think over the years I’ve panicked when I haven’t got myself off to a flier but as I’ve got older I’ve tried to get a bit wiser,” he admitted.
In Azeem Rafiq, Mustard at last found a bowler to his liking. He brilliantly dissected two fielders with a reverse sweep, then a straight drive doubled his boundary count in four balls.
With Scott Borthwick and Will Smith more suited to patience than pyrotechnics and Paul Collingwood unable to bat after taking a return catch which required stitches and an inconclusive X-ray for his right thumb, Durham found themselves lagging further and further behind the required run rate.
Ben Stokes could have done something about it had he not overbalanced and been stumped off a wide from the first delivery he faced.
Mustard, though, was unfazed. “We knew on a small ground we could chase 10, 12, 14 runs an over,” he reasoned. “We lost Rocky (Stoneman) early on but we spoke before the innings about keeping wickets in hand. That’s massive in a run chase.”
With the outstanding Jack Brooks bowled out at the earliest opportunity, Durham had a known quantity to attack at the death in Plunkett. They did to their old mate what he had done to them, taking 26 off the last two overs from the Pavilion End.
Mustard started the onslaught but to his undisguised disappointment, was unable to see it through. Denied a boundary by Ryan Sidebottom’s brilliant sliding stop, he made sure he got it next ball with a drive through the covers. But he sliced his next shot, and was caught on the cover boundary. At that stage 37 were needed from 19 balls but you would never have known it from Muchall’s demeanour.
“I knew we were going to win, I was confident we could do that,” Pringle said afterwards. Muchall echoed that sentiment, but with actions rather than words. He had a stroke of luck, dropped in the covers on 20 after hitting straight to Rich Pyrah – a shot which prompted a change of bat.
But he marshalled Pringle through before over-enthusiastic running saw the Wearsider run out with three balls left.
Playing as a specialist batsman at eight even without Collingwood, Michael Richardson hit the first ball for four, then completed a tight tip-and-run to win the game a good 15 minutes before a heavily-bandaged Collingwood returned from hospital.