PHIL Mustard paid the price for Durham’s poor start to 2012 when he was sacked as captain.
The wicketkeeper will be replaced by Paul Collingwood for the rest of Durham’s LV County Championship campaign which resumes at Worcestershire a week today.
The club went into lockdown yesterday, offering no interviews and nothing more than a few brief statements.
In that vacuum, one can only speculate the dressing-room joker failed to convince its senior players he was a serious leader.
Mustard (below) took over when an earlier poor start prompted panic from a club who expect to challenge annually for the title they won in 2008 and 2009.
When Will Smith won one and lost one of his first four games in 2010, he was ruthlessly shown the door.
Eight games into this campaign, Durham are still to taste victory.
With Smith effectively sacked on the bus home from Trent Bridge, the next morning Mustard willingly took on a responsibility others shirked.
Durham avoided relegation by 22 points and Mustard was reappointed for each of the next two campaigns, but only in four-day cricket.
The problem was, the men Durham wanted in charge were unwilling or unable to take the job.
When Smith went in 2010 the Riversiders desperately hoped predecessor Dale Benkenstein would retake the reins.
However, he had tired of the responsibilities – particularly in the media.
When he was cajoled back, in 2011, it was only as limited-overs skipper.
There was talk last winter that Collingwood, his international career over, would get the four-day job. It was never a viable option.
The all-rounder was expected to miss the entire first half of the Championship for the Indian Premier League.
Only because Rajasthan Royals were so overloaded with overseas players did they release him.
Durham’s dressing room is packed with senior figures with captaincy experience.
However, Ian Blackwell and Michael Di Venuto have been frozen out of limited-overs cricket and Stephen Harmison is not guaranteed his place.
Mustard effectively chaired the committee which decided tactics as its media frontman.
Collingwood would often adjust the field from slip, where he and Di Venuto stood close to Mustard.
Durham were far more patient with Mustard than Smith. The wicketkeeper won a third of his 33 matches, as opposed to half of Smith’s.
There was one important difference – Smith was not justifying his place.
He averaged 33 as skipper, as opposed to 38.56 for Mustard.
At the start of this season Mustard was the best of a bad bunch as Durham struggled with the bat, though as his form tailed off the manner of his dismissals were disappointingly irresponsible.
At 47, Mustard’s average as captain was far higher in matches his team lost.
He has the stomach for the fight Durham are in, and as coach Geoff Cook was at pains to point out, “remains an integral part of the team as a key contributor behind the stumps and with the bat”.
Collingwood briefly took over Durham’s 50-over side when Benkenstein dislocated his shoulder in May.
The 36-year-old is England’s most capped player, with 300 international appearances.
Twenty-five times he led the 40-over side, and 30 the Twenty20.
At times during his one-day international captaincy he appeared a reluctant leader, making way for Kevin Pietersen in a dramatic suicide pact with Michael Vaughan after a controversial one-day series earned him a suspension and England much opprobrium for poor sportsmanship.
Now he seems happier in charge. In 2010 he became the first – and only – man to captain England to a major trophy, the World Twenty20 Championship.
Durham are 20 points adrift of safety but with relegation rivals Worcestershire and Sussex still to play home and away.
It may not be too big a financial blow in county cricket, but the pride of England’s newest first-class county is precious to them, as Mustard discovered.
Durham’s situation appeared to be getting worse with rumours circulating that Di Venuto, struggling with injury, will not play again this season. His contract is up at the end of the summer.