A BAD week was turning into a horrendous one for Durham. Three defeats in as many competitions were about to ruin a season which had offered so much promise.
Needing 77 to win from 17 overs with effectively seven wickets in hand, Leicestershire were strolling to a CB40 victory.
But a remarkable spell of six overs in which Durham claimed six wickets for four runs kick-started a flagging campaign. When you consider one of those overs cost 15, it was incredible. The only pity is they must wait seven days for the chance to build on a 37-run victory.
“The guys were a bit low on confidence after the crushing (Twenty20 Cup) quarter-final defeat at the Rose Bowl and then a disappointing manufactured end to the Championship game here,” admitted Ian Blackwell.
“It was essential to get a CB40 win which puts us in a pretty good position in the table.”
Saturday’s contrived 50-run defeat at home to Hampshire could see leaders Durham drop to fourth in the County Championship table if Lancashire, Somerset and Warwickshire make good use of the Riversiders’ inactivity. Then, the finger of blame pointed squarely at batsmen who failed to chase a modest 276 from 82 overs.
The dismal pattern continued when Leicestershire won the toss and bowled. Durham committed one of limited-overs cricket’s most series crimes – not batting out their overs. As well as facing 17 balls less than they were entitled to, they were unable to put their foot down late on.
On 160-5 with ten overs to go and their batting powerplay used – effectively – the hosts posted just 192. This season Durham have made a virtue of finding players to bat through, Gordon Muchall, Ben Stokes, Kyle Coetzer and Phil Mustard all scoring top-order centuries.
With Muchall dropped for the first time this summer, Coetzer out of favour, Stokes on England Lions duty and Mustard gifting a second-ball duck, Mark Stoneman nearly trebled his best “List A” (40 or 50 over) score, but gave his wicket away in the 32nd over.
It is not hard to see who his game is modelled on – when he opens with fellow left-hander Michael Di Venuto it is almost as if the Tasmanian is batting at both ends. His stroke-playing style should be tailor-made for limited-overs cricket, yet this was only his ninth game.
He has not played much in any format this season, the Championship game against Hampshire his return to first-team cricket after breaking his hand on the second morning of the season. He reacted calmly after Mustard leaned back on a short ball and picked out fine leg, cutting the first two deliveries of the third over for four. A boundary whipped off middle stump and a pull when Harry Gurney dropped short – not a good idea on a pitch slow enough to give plenty of thinking time – showed his destructive side, but he was savvy enough to realise his role, facing 101 balls for 73.
Sensible cricket was in short supply from his partners. Will Smith was undone by low bounce but was playing across the line, Paul Collingwood went for a big shot before his eye was in, while Dale Benkenstein top-edged an unnecessary reverse-sweep to short third man, reducing Durham to 66-4.
Blackwell’s 43 from 40 balls took the scoring pressure off Stoneman, sweeping two big sixes off Jigar Naik, and giving Wayne White’s dreadful full toss maximum punishment. He too surrendered meekly, chipping a catch which although Gurney had to run in to collect, gave him plenty of time.
Stoneman then took a big swipe across the line and was lbw. Callum Thorp, in only his second white-ball match of 2011, continued the batting form shown in Saturday’s 43, launching Josh Cobb into the seating behind him, pulling another six, then going for a hat-trick but only offering a catch Matthew Boyce came off the long-on boundary to collect.
The Foxes made a flying start. It was never going to be needed with the sun finally sighted at Chester-le-Street, but the Duckworth Lewis par score was revealing. After 10 overs, Leicestershire needed to be 27 without loss. They were 64 for none.
Thorp’s first over cost 14, but his third was a wicket maiden, Cobb giving backward point Collingwood the first of four catches. He bowled without the swing of earlier in the week – but got the wickets Lady Luck owed him for it. It would be nice to say Smith’s outstanding catch running back from midwicket changed the game, but not until the 24th over did a Leicestershire side who could not qualify and knew Andrew McDonald could not bat panic as half-centurion Jacques du Toit followed Blackwell’s turning delivery to Collingwood. Fellow spinner Gareth Breese produced a wicket maiden, finding Boyce’s edge.
White ended a run of 15 dot balls by launching Breese for six, but three balls later reverse-swept him to Thorp.
When Paul Dixey offered a slip catch, 117-2 had become 141-7 and the end was nigh. Redemption had been achieved.