An excited Paul Collingwood believes anything is possible in the closing weeks of Durham’s season.
The Riversiders go into today’s County Championship clash at home to Surrey still in with a good chance of the title, but without their two most prolific bowlers.
Graham Onions has a broken finger and all-rounder Ben Stokes is on England Lions duty. Between them they have taken 76 Championship wickets this season.
With Callum Thorp suffering a hamstring strain, left-armer Jamie Harrison could make his first appearance of the season or, perhaps more likely, all-rounder Usman Arshad his debut.
“Ben Stokes is pretty much two players in one,” said Collingwood. “Stokesey’s a genuine wicket-taker. He’s one of those guys I’ve thrown the ball to many times in close situations, and I’m sure this game will probably go to one of those situations where you need that special something, that inswinging yorker or that really fast spell he can give you.
“He’s got the X factor about him with the bat, the ball or in the field.
“There’s a good chance of seeing some youngsters today.
“That’s the beauty of Durham. In the past we might have gone down the route of overseas, but this year it’s been forced on us because of the financial situation to really bring the youngsters through.
“To still have success whilst you’re doing that is magnificent. We’ve been pushing for a semi-final spot in the Twenty20 and we were very close to making it in the YB40.
“It’s almost exposed them right at the deep end, but they’re very talented cricketers so you’re not putting someone in a situation where you think he can’t handle that.
“They’ve done the work and the preparation in the second team and all that, now it’s just the mental side of going into First-Class cricket.
“You look at the likes of (Ryan) Buckley, who will have great memories of his debut at Surrey, taking five wickets.
“No-one had even heard of Buckley before the season started. That’s what you hope other players can do.”
Durham have lost their way in the last couple of weeks, going out of the Twenty20 Cup and YB40, and losing to Middlesex in the Championship.
But after such a strong finish to last season, it would be premature to write this one off just yet.
“It has been a disappointing couple of weeks and we’ve got to make sure we finish the season strongly,” said Collingwood. “It’s a huge challenge for us with the amount of players we’ve got left to keep the intensity up all the time, but that’s what we’ve got to do to win a four-day Championship.
“You’ve got to be really strong individually.
“We’ve got six four-day games in 35 days. It’s a lot of cricket and a lot to be played for.
“Part of me says I just wish we had a little bit more experience in this crucial part of the season, but you never know what can happen with youngsters. They can come in and do some extraordinary things and that’s the exciting part.
“We’ve got to really focus on getting back to the real disciplines of four-day cricket because it’s hard work.
“These games usually come down to small margins and it’s which team holds their nerve at the right time. It might only be a 30 or 40-run partnership at the right time that can get you over the line.”
Collingwood was doing his bit for North East youngsters yesterday in his role as an ambassador for Yorkshire Bank. Collingwood handed out certificates and held an unannounced question-and-answer session, as well as presenting one of the 150 cricket bats handed out via the Giving Bat to You campaign at www.facebook.com/YorkshireBankCricket
“I would have given anything to do what they’ve done and play on a ground which has just had an Ashes Test,” said Collingwood. “It’s surreal.
“It’s fantastic for the kids and the area.”