Often in sport statistics are something the anoraks in the stands obsess over, but those on the field care little for. But Durham have been driven this year by a desire to set new landmarks for achievement.
With the prize money already secured and the County Championship trophy in the cabinet, statistics again provided the driving force on Durham’s final day of cricket in 2013. One last remarkable performance eluded them, though.
Taking 10 wickets on a pitch which had flattened out considerably was always going to be a tall order, but the team that had done the impossible at Trent Bridge, Derby and Scarborough must have fancied their chances.
But once Sussex batted it became apparent the ambitions they arrived with were not going to be met.
The personal landmarks were. Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick both made it to 1,000 Championship runs for the season, while Graham Onions became only the second man to 70 wickets for Durham in the competition. Usman Arshad made the highest score by a Durham No.9 after Keaton Jennings and Michael Richardson scored centuries which will help cement their positions when everything restarts next April.
Most incredibly of all, Phil Mustard claimed a wicket in his first over in competitive cricket.
But this season has been more of a team effort than any of the Riversiders’ three titles, and the collective achievements eluded them.
Durham had grand plans to make the long trek north with a sixth straight Championship win, a record 11th of the campaign and the highest points total by a Division One side. They also wanted to see their new-ball partnership of Onions and Chris Rushworth surpass Simon Brown and Stephen Harmison in 1999 as the county’s most potent in a season.
All were up for grabs on the last day, but Sussex were celebrating in the final hour of the campaign, clinching third place and the £87,000 prize pot that comes with it.
Durham sang their victory anthem anyway. They could look back with satisfaction on the season just gone and, thanks to Arshad, Jennings and Richardson in particular, to the future.
As well as being hugely entertaining, particularly for those on the home balcony who noisily lapped up every one of his 15 boundaries, Arshad’s 83 from 88 deliveries was the highest score made by a Durham No.9.
Not that Arshad is a genuine No.9. If Ben Stokes establishes himself in the England team this winter, the 20-year-old all-rounder from Bingley could have an important role to play next season. Championship averages of 28 with the bat and 15 with the ball suggest Durham should have little to fear about that.
Arshad put on 106 with Jennings for the eighth wicket, though to describe it as a partnership would be stretching the point. Jennings chipped in just 16. Arshad started the day with a four guided between slips and gully, and continued in much the same vein throughout.
With Chris Jordan bowling just one over before leaving the field, the fire had been taken out of the Sussex attack, and the demons had left the pitch. The uneven bounce which figured heavily in plenty of wickets of the first two-and-a-half days was nowhere to be seen.
Arshad cashed in. A six was swept of Ashar Zaidi, another pulled off James Anyon. Arshad is a naturally aggressive batsman. That Jennings is not gave him the freedom to take the game to the hosts.
Jennings was the glue which held the innings together and when he was out – touching the ball down legside to be caught behind for 127 – things came unstuck. Within 15 balls Durham had been bowled out and all discussions about when to declare rendered irrelevant. Still, 295 in 75 overs did not look a million miles from the sort of total a team might set given the chance.
Arshad went four balls after Jennings, drilling the ball to Ed Joyce at short midwicket. The Sussex captain twice knocked the ball out of his grasp, stretching out his right hand to claim it at the third attempt.
Consecutive boundaries from Rushworth to rapturous applause from his team-mates not only took the No.11 to 100 First-Class runs for the season and Durham past 450, but served as a reminder that wickets were now hard to come by on this pitch, and runs not. He was soon bowled for his insolence.
Sussex put on 163 before outstanding catches by Paul Collingwood, Richardson and Borthwick – the latter to give Will Smith a farewell wicket – disrupted their progress. Luke Wells missed out on a century, but Chris Nash got one to go with his own 1,000-run tally.
Sussex hit 56 boundaries and no bowler looked capable of stopping them. With four needed, wicketkeeper Mustard took the pads off and gave his leg spin a twirl. After five balls he had Luke Wright lbw, before fellow gloveman Ben Brown swept him for the winning runs.
“I couldn’t believe I was making that decision,” captain Collingwood admitted afterwards, “but he thinks he’s the best leg-spinner in the club so I said, ‘Come on, let’s see what you can do.’ It was a magic ball.
“In many ways that’s the kind of season we’ve had, whatever we’ve tried has kind of worked.”