Durham will be expected to go from chasers to chased in the County Championship title race this week without all-rounder Ben Stokes, but Paul Collingwood insists there is no pressure on his young side.
A brilliant seven-wicket win at Yorkshire means just six points from the Riversiders’ game in hand at home to Sussex – starting tomorrow – will put them top with three matches left. They took all 24 from Scarborough.
Victory will be far from guaranteed, however, against a third-placed side who will believe they can gatecrash the party because they complete their season against Yorkshire and Durham at Hove. Collingwood will also be without England call-up Stokes for the next fortnight.
His barnstorming display at Scarborough showed what a loss that will be. Statistically speaking, Stokes’ first-day 127 was his biggest achievement of the four days. But his flying fourth-slip catch on day two was the moment of the match and his bowling on the third and fourth mornings decided it in Durham’s favour.
“Was it the best I’ve seen him play? Yeah, I think so,” said captain Collingwood. “It’s very hard as an all-rounder to put the three facets together in one game but that was a serious, serious performance from him. He’s a young guy and we don’t want to put too much pressure on him but he’s so talented it’s frightening.
“The hundred was fantastic in the first innings but his bowling... he can do anything. He can bowl them out, he can be aggressive, swing the ball both ways, he’s got all the attributes.
“To have such a competitor is fantastic as a captain because he always wants to be in the heat of the battle.”
It defied logic that Durham could take 20 wickets on such an unhelpful pitch but Stokes’ reverse swing first made Yorkshire follow-on, then removed both partners in the 253-run second-wicket stand that looked to have spared the league leaders only a second Championship defeat in 31 matches.
Scott Borthwick did most of the leg-work knocking off Durham’s 121-run victory target with his seventh 50-plus Championship score this year but Stokes finished it with a six and a four.
If the skill which had Phil Jaques and Kane Williamson caught behind the wicket was impressive, the energy to keep troubling them with bouncer warfare late on a stiflingly-hot Friday was no less worthy of recognition, particularly considering the extra workload caused by Mark Wood’s side strain.
“It’s a talent, a skill,” reflected Collingwood. “A lot of the mental side of cricket is how much you want it and that guy wants it.
“He is a dream. There’s times where you get frustrated by him but you can’t have it both ways. He’s such an aggressive guy on the field in terms of commitment and wanting to be in the battle that you’ve just got to let him roll and go with it.”
Stokes misses the games against Sussex and Derbyshire but by hook or by crook he will be in the team which hosts Nottinghamshire the morning after England’s final one-day international under the Southampton floodlights.
Graham Onions should return from a broken finger to replace Wood tomorrow, and Usman Arshad may fill in for Stokes. If Durham are short on personnel – Callum Thorp and Dale Benkenstein are other absentees from an already small squad – they make up for it in confidence.
As Collingwood says, “There always seems to be someone to come in and fill a gap you think can’t be filled. Hopefully that continues in the next few games.
“There’s no pressure on the guys. We all knew at the start of the season people were saying could we avoid relegation.
“To perform like we have, there’s a lot of confidence around.
“But there’s still a lot of learning to go. It will interesting over the next four games how we react to (being favourites), but I imagine it will be a positive reaction.”