They say necessity is the mother of invention,” Jon Lewis noted yesterday. After watching his Durham team go second in the County Championship, we can comfortably say it is bringing the best out of them.
It has been a strange season for the Riversiders.
Obstacles keep being thrown in their way, and they keep clearing them. The exception is Twenty20 cricket, but the presence of their second team at Finals Day – despite many of its best players being called up to the firsts recently – shows there is even cause for optimism there.
Beating Derbyshire is, unfortunately, not much to get excited about. Beating them by 279 runs is.
Defeating them by such a margin without your coach, captain, vice-captain or leading wicket-taker is hugely impressive.
As well as celebrating a win which keeps them right in the title race – their game in hand puts them well within striking range of leaders Sussex – there was also the good news that coach Geoff Cook has left hospital after treatment for his recent heart attack.
The man deputising was delighted after his first Championship game in charge – as it was for captain Mark Stoneman – ended in victory 16 deliveries into the final day.
“We’ve been forced down this path and going down it is working very well for us, which is good,” said Lewis.
“Finances are dictating quite a bit in terms of what’s going on in the squad – how big and experienced it can be.
“We know we’ve got to go down the path of getting these young lads playing, and not just playing but winning games.
“There’s no point just picking guys to play, they need to put their hands up when they do. That’s a necessity, that people make contributions towards winning and are not just coming along for the ride.
“We had no (captain Paul) Collingwood, no (vice-captain Dale) Benkenstein, no (Graham) Onions. The squad is working really hard and the players that are left are having to put their hands up in all competitions.
“That will have to go on for a little bit now because Paul’s not ready for the weekend, Dale won’t play for quite some time and Onions is not available for the weekend either.
“We need to manage it as best we can. The travel in the T20 doesn’t help either. It cost us a little bit at Leicester the other week when we weren’t very good. It’s tricky for them but we can’t complain.”
Keaton Jennings, who owes his place to Durham’s inability to sign an overseas batsman, made two of the game’s three highest scores. The other went to fellow centurion Scott Borthwick, who has seamlessly filled the No.3 position problematic for most of Durham’s 21 years in First-Class cricket.
Yesterday, on his 27th birthday, Chris Rushworth made light of the absence of Onions to claim the first ten-wicket match haul of his career.
With Ben Stokes taking 4-62 in the second innings and Callum Thorp conceding less than a run an over throughout, it was a model bowling performance.
“I haven’t seen as much (first-team cricket) as Geoff or Alan (Walker, Durham’s bowling coach) obviously, but that’s as good as I’ve seen four seamers on one of our pitches before,” said former captain Lewis. “They were excellent lengths right the way through and they backed each other up – one guy came off, the next came on and did the same job.
“Call’s not played so much T20, he’s been around the squad but he hasn’t been involved so much. He’s just come on and done what Callum does.
“He’s an excellent bowler who doesn’t give the batsman a chance, nor does he let him off the hook.
“The ball he got (Wayne) Madsen out with in the second innings was an absolute beauty.” Phil Mustard took an excellent catch, diving in front of second slip, from the second ball of the day.
Jonathan Clare’s replacement at the crease, Tom Groenewald, hardly inspired confidence. He wafted at a ball too close to him before scoring, and had an anxious wait to see if the next delivery would roll back onto his stumps after playing it down.
He followed a four by trying to hook Rushworth. It seemed Durham had celebrated prematurely, but with Groenewald standing his ground, the umpire’s finger eventually went up.
Stokes sent Mark Footitt’s middle stump cartwheeling five balls later.
Onions misses the Twenty20 games at home to Yorkshire tonight, and at Lancashire on Sunday because England want the Gateshead-born fast bowler to stay with their Ashes squad.
“I haven’t had any conversations but they sent an e-mail saying Graham and Tim (Bresnan) were going to stay with the squad until at least the beginning of the second Test,” Lewis explained. “It’s six and two threes really, because they (Yorkshire) won’t have Bresnan.
“You can’t argue with it, they’re trying to do the right thing to win the Ashes. It doesn’t help but we have to respect it and wish them the best.”
Jennings and Thorp looked like they had benefited from not featuring in this season’s Twenty20 Cup. Both are in tonight’s squad, though they could well be the odd men out.