Jon Lewis has praised Mark Stoneman’s “brave” captaincy, but the bigger endorsement came when Paul Collingwood decided against a return to action tonight.
Durham face Leicestershire, knowing only a win will keep their hopes of reaching the Twenty20 Cup knockout stages alive.
Collingwood is still not fully fit after lacerating a thumb at Yorkshire last month. After back-to-back away wins last week, and with a County Championship game at Lord’s the week after next, the captain has decided not to risk a return just yet.
Interim coach Lewis revealed: “Paul’s trying damned hard to get back onto the field, but we’ve kind of put it on the back burner for this weekend.
“He felt we should let the guys carry on and not change a side that’s been doing well recently. There’s no great desire to change things for the sake of it. We’re hopeful he’ll be available for Lord’s though.
“He spoke again to the specialist who said, ‘Well how long did you expect it to take’? If it was just a finger injury, you could expect to be back in a couple of weeks, but thumbs are more difficult.”
Stoneman will be making only his 12th career Twenty20 appearance at Chester-le-Street, but Lewis is impressed at how the 26-year-old has taken to captaincy.
“The two spinners started very well against Notts last week and Mark was brave enough to give them a fourth over,” he said. “It turned out to be an expensive one (21 runs were scored off Gareth Breese), so you could argue it was one too many, but that’s with hindsight. At the time, I thought it was a decent decision.”
Six days ago, Durham’s chances of reaching the quarter-finals for only the fourth time were looking pretty slim. They remain an outside bet, but victory tonight would set up an interesting final day on Sunday.
Ben Stokes’s 72 not out at Nottinghamshire was only the second Twenty20 half-century of his career and he followed it with another match-winning knock, of 46, at Derbyshire.
Lewis reflected: “Last weekend was a very good effort. They were tricky back-to-back away games and Nottinghamshire did a good job on us at our place, so to respond to that was good.
“We weren’t perfect, but a combination of Stokes and Breese got us over the line.
“Ben’s innings at Trent Bridge was very, very impressive. He has got the ball-striking ability, that’s not in question. He hits a cricket ball as hard and as cleanly as anyone in county cricket, I would have thought.
“But he managed the innings so cleverly, and having Breesey alongside him will have helped. His little cameo (of 32 from 14 deliveries) was excellent too.”
Their punishment for last season’s salary cap breach has made reaching the quarter-finals harder for Durham, but the equation is at least less complicated.
The top two in each group, plus the two best third-placed teams, reach the last eight. Durham are fourth in the northern group, a quarter of a point behind Derbyshire, Sunday’s visitors.
“We almost definitely have to win both games,” said Lewis.
“That quarter-point could end up costing us, but there’s not an awful lot we can do about it now.
“It might as well have been a full point, or at least 0.99, but it does make life a bit more simple for us. If it was a full point, we might have to worry about net run rates and things like that, but that won’t come into it because no one will finish on the same points as us.
“Last weekend we weren’t looking so much at the equations to finish third, but now we’re looking to see how things are going in the other groups.”
Mark Wood is back in the squad, but the likelihood is an unchanged side, which would see the all-rounder released to play for Tynedale at Leadgate on Saturday.
DURHAM (from): Stoneman (c), Mustard (wk), Borthwick, Smith, Stokes, Muchall, Breese, Pringle, Richardson, Rushworth, Onions, Arshad, Wood.