Durham's title triumph out-does dreams of 1992

Durham won their third County Championship title in a way even the pioneers of 1992 could not have imagined

Durham captain Paul Collingwood and team celebrate winning the LV County Championship Division One title
Durham captain Paul Collingwood and team celebrate winning the LV County Championship Division One title

Yesterday was the day Bob Jackson must have dreamed of when he was helping to bring first-class cricket to the North East.

Then again, maybe for the only board member to have served for all 21 years since to present the County Championship trophy to a Shotley Bridge-born Durham captain who had just led a team of 10 home-grown players and a Durham University graduate to the title was stretching it just a bit.

Oh, and Chester-le-Street hosted England winning the Ashes too.

It is not true to say Durham came of age in their 21st year of senior cricket. This was their third Championship pennant in six years.

However, it was the first where they stood on their own two feet.

There was no Michael Di Venuto, Ian Blackwell or Shivnarine Chanderpaul to see them over the line.

Dale Benkenstein contributed just 233 runs before a shoulder injury ended his season.

This was a triumph created at Durham’s academy.

Surrey and their "galacticos" might ponder that as they fight relegation next week.

It could scarcely have been more fitting that Mark Stoneman punched the winning runs through the covers.

Born in Newcastle, bred in Sunniside, he has stepped up his game massively since Di Venuto’s retirement, scoring the Australian’s runs and filling in when one-day captain Benkenstein and four-day skipper Collingwood were injured.

It made sound harsh, but in a way it seemed no bad thing Keaton Jennings – born in South Africa to a mother from Sunderland – was lbw when Harry Gurney belatedly found his feet.

Sunderland-born Scott Borthwick has taken extra responsibility as successfully as Stoneman this year. He is 15 short of 1,000 Championship runs, Stoneman 16.

Unfortunately the 23-year-old had not read the script, slapping Paul Franks to mid-on for a four-ball duck.

It had rained on Durham’s parade in the morning, delaying the start until 1.30pm. Even though the batsmen were not in any hurry, the runs were knocked off in under an hour. When Stoneman completed the eight-wicket win fans appeared from everywhere, spilling out of the members lounge and hospitality boxes to applaud the champions.

It was Durham’s fifth straight win – a county record.

They have built an unstoppable momentum since putting the white ball away to concentrate on Championship cricket.

Captain Paul Collingwood reflected: “Our last four or five performances have been absolutely clinical. They have all been either-innings wins, wins in two to three days or wins after making teams follow-on.”

Durham lost the toss in this game. As far as the obstacles thrown in front of them this year go, it was a tiny one.

Championship-winning teams get lucky and Collingwood did when Nottinghamshire’s Chris Read decided to follow Durham’s lead in every previous Chester-le-Street game this season and bat.

He admitted: “Going into the game, for three days I had sleepless nights. I knew I should be bowling first because the wickets we had played on have become flatter and flatter as games have gone on but if you look at our strategy we had batted first every time, got 250 and then killed teams in the second innings and got ahead of the game that way.

“I was desperate to bowl first but didn’t want to walk into the dressing room, tell the lads that and upset the whole applecart. So when the coin came down against us, I thought, ‘thank goodness for that!’”

Collingwood’s captaincy has been a potent mixture of conservatism and boldness.

The safe team selection was Mitchell Claydon, a veteran of the previous two title-winning campaigns.

Collingwood went for 22-year-old Jamie Harrison, who suffered no-ball problems at Derby last week.

On the rare occasions they have had the choice, Durham have really backed youth this year. Harrison took 3-4 in Nottinghamshire’s first innings.

Collingwood said: “If I think a youngster can come in and do a job, take wickets and create pressure I will give the youngster the opportunity.

“I’m not scared of giving guys opportunities. It has proved this year if you do give people responsibility they do grow very quickly.”

That ethos was installed by men like Jackson and current head coach Geoff Cook when Collingwood was still at school.

Cook said: “This team has reinvented itself very quickly so that brings a special spirit to the whole thing. “The first (title win, in 2008) was very special, we had a team of very talented cricketers.

“This one’s from the other end of the spectrum. They rely a lot on discipline and team-work without any really outstanding players, except maybe Graham Onions.

“It’s been a quick turnaround hastened by one or two situations last season but young people have taken the opportunity given to them by those situations.”

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