Few will mourn the last 40-over game at Chester-le-Street, but Will Smith ensured the competition was seen off in style.
A crowd of 3,100 – boosted by free tickets for under-16s – turned out for the final home match. One wobbly August week ensured Durham will not be playing in its knockout stages.
Reviving the old Sunday League seemed a good idea at the time, but with Twenty20 to rival it, teams have been lukewarm to it and it lacks the benefit that next year’s version – across 50 overs – will have of preparing players for international cricket.
You would be hard-pushed to get Smith to say a bad word about it at the moment, though. And finishing on a high ensured that the morale boost of hammering Surrey last week was prolonged by doing it again this.
Smith hit the last ball Durham faced in it for a six to complete a memorable 120 not out which was the cornerstone of a 133-run victory.
Durham had been trundling along quite gently until Smith exploded.
When Gordon Muchall carved the ball through the offside to bring up the 150, it was the first boundary for 44 balls, and only the second in 13 overs. Muchall and Smith were content to run ones and twos, rather than take unnecessary risks with spin at both ends from Gareth Batty and Zafar Ansari.
Will Smith was 37 not out off 43 deliveries at the time. His next 83 came from 36, including a 21-ball second half-century. It was an astonishing display of hitting from one of the anchormen of Durham’s four-day side.
Put him in whites and Smith is a grafter. His only century in this season’s County Championship – 153 at Trent Bridge – was an epic act of defiance. His 87 against Surrey on Thursday was another innings to grind the opposition down. But when he wants to play shots, he certainly can.
“I’ve performed a lot of different roles this year but that’s great,” said the opener-come-middle-order-batsman-come-occasional-spinner. “It’s something I pride myself on, adapting to that.”
He hit five sixes yesterday, compared to one in the rest of the YB40 competition. There was even a “ramp” shot over his shoulder for four.
With Muchall, he put on 163,Durham’s highest “List A” partnership for the sixth wicket.
The fireworks started in the 32nd over, the one before a batting powerplay was taken. One hundred and seventeen runs came from the last nine overs. “We left it so there were enough overs left that if we did go a bit harder and got out we weren’t going to be bowled out with two or three overs left, which is sometimes what’s happened,” Smith explained.
Up until then it seemed Durham were being over-cautious. Mark Stoneman had smashed 31 off 25 balls before playing around a Tim Linley delivery, but Scott Borthwick and Paul Collingwood rarely found the rope. Ben Stokes did, with an outrageous in-to-out drive over mid-off, only to be bowled by a ball which kept a fraction low.
Durham’s 275 was always going to be beyond a watered-down version of the side so comprehensively beaten over the previous four days of County Championship cricket.
Surrey were unable to keep up with Durham’s initial run-rate, never mind their accelerated one. With so many runs to defend the Riversiders just had to bowl tightly and wait for the wickets.
Arun Harinath guided to slip, Jason Roy picked out point, Vikram Solanki’s drive slipped off the edge, Zander de Bruyn hit straight to mid-on and Dominic Sibley to midwicket.
Borthwick got a good bowl, not without its four-balls, but valuable with three Championship away games left. YB40 debutant Usman Arshad looked no more out of place than in his first Championship outing last week.
Borthwick took 3-42 in an unbroken eight-over spell and although Rory Burns lofted him for a big six off his legs, he perished trying to hit another straighter from the next delivery.
Gareth Breese’s four late wickets ensured a finish with nearly ten overs left.