Gordon Muchall might not know what the future holds for him at Durham, but he took full advantage of the clarity of purpose on the field yesterday to keep the county’s Twenty20 Cup hopes alive.
For most of Durham’s first ten seasons in the competition they have given the distinct impression they had not got their heads around the new-fangled format. As a result, even talent-laden teams have failed to make an impact.
But Paul Collingwood won the World Twenty20 Championship as England captain with a meticulous eye for detail, and although he was only in the stands yesterday, such thinking was in evidence again.
As a result, Durham’s least experienced Twenty20 squad of the last few years are starting to look a serious threat in the competition, even though they could drop out of it on Wednesday.
Muchall made a career-best 66 after being promoted to four in the batting order for the first time this season. It clinched a club-record fourth straight Twenty20 win over Derbyshire, third place in the northern group and perhaps a quarter-final berth.
“They’ve quite a few off-spinners so it’s easy for the right-hander and one of my shots is the ‘drop-kick’ to try and get it over the ropes for six,” said Muchall, explaining his promotion ahead of Will Smith and Ben Stokes.
“I was pleased to do it – the earlier the better in this form.
“They gave me a bit of a licence and said, ‘Take the off-spinners down.’”
Such detailed thinking has become standard this summer, it seems.
“Paul Collingwood needs to take some credit for that,” said Muchall. “(Analyst) Phil Dicks, (interim coach) Jon Lewis and Geoff (Cook, head coach) sat down and all had a big think about how we’ve played Twenty20 over the past years.
“They came up with some clear plans and everyone’s bought into it. It’s just given us a bit of clarity. Everyone’s gone in knowing their roles.
“If it doesn’t come off, it’s not your day, we’re not going to get shouted at because we know what we’ve got to do. We’re in good shape.” Having laid the excellent platform of 83-1 off 10.3 overs, there was a case for the in-form Stokes to go in early and wreak havoc. Instead, Muchall did his best impression of the all-rounder, hitting four sixes in an innings which took up just 36 deliveries.
Muchall laid into Wes Durston from only his second full over at the crease. While the first six he pulled had the umpires watching the video replay board to decide which side of the rope it had landed there was no doubt about the next, straighter and bigger from the following delivery.
In the next over he came down to the pitch to another part-time spinner, launching Dan Redfern over the midwicket boundary. Muchall cleared the head of the fielder at mid-on when Peter Burgoyne dropped short in the following over.
There was more to his innings than bludgeoning. A drive off Alex Hughes was perfectly placed, dissecting two fielders for at least the third time, but it still took good running between the wickets to get three from it.
Muchall’s 80-run partnership with Scott Borthwick, who helped by playing his natural game, came from 40 deliveries.
When Borthwick was lbw with 17 balls left it looked like a good wicket to lose, although Stokes was “only” able to make ten from his seven balls. Having been put in, the Riversiders already had plenty by the time he came to the crease.
Phil Mustard had looked in fantastic touch, as his three boundaries in the fifth over highlighted, but the fairytale 100th Twenty20 Cup appearance eluded him when he picked out Chesney Hughes on the long-on boundary.
Mark Stoneman was denied only his third half-century as captain when he tried to repeat a swept four and he too found Hughes, now at square leg.
Taking 24 off the first two overs, Derbyshire began their reply at breakneck speed but they were reined in when Graham Onions found his lines to show England what they are missing.
The steady flow of wickets meant although they had two runs more than Durham at the ten-over comparison, Derbyshire were 28 runs short of a Duckworth Lewis tie.
Man of the last three matches, Stokes produced the two outstanding moments of yesterday’s, instantly spinning and demolishing the stumps at the non-striker’s end after fielding off his own bowling to run out Alex Hughes, then running from long off and diving full length to catch Redfern. Muchall called it “the best catch I’ve ever seen”.
Victors by 37 runs, Durham must hope for a Gloucestershire win at home to Glamorgan tomorrow. If not, they need victories for Hampshire and Surrey against Middlesex and Essex respectively on Wednesday to reach the quarter-finals. Muchall’s own future is equally unclear. With Collingwood testing his damaged thumb before the match, he is on stand-by to make his first County Championship appearance this season at Lord’s next week.
The 30-year-old is out of contract in the winter and with Durham cutting costs he admits, “It’s very undecided at the minute. Hopefully we’ll get some clarity soon.”