DURHAM can lose at Surrey today and still qualify for Sunday’s semi-finals of the CB40. But coach Geoff Cook views today’s televised game as an important test of his squad’s character.
It has been a bad few weeks for the Riversiders.
Three weeks ago they were knocked out of the Twenty20 Cup quarter-finals at Hampshire. Last week their winless run in the County Championship extended to four matches – three of them lost – to all but count them out of the title race.
Redemption is at hand, though, with an end-of-season Lord’s final still open to them. Cook is demanding they get over recent disappointments and book what will be only the third major semi-final in the county’s history.
“Hopefully we’ve got 11 days’ cricket left – we’ve certainly got 10,” he said. “We just want the lads to come back with a lot of pride and a lot of determination.
“That’s certainly something I’m looking forward to seeing – exactly who wants to try and win some games for Durham. The first two thirds of the season were excellent, now we want to try and recapture those levels.
“It has been a bit fragmented with injuries and people being away on international calls etc, but that just makes extra demands on the character of the team. Over the next three weeks we’ve got to see that.”
With Surrey the only team to have confirmed their place in the semi-finals, Durham are hoping to go through as the best second-placed side from the three qualifying groups. Victory (or a washout) at The Oval will confirm it, as will defeats for Nottinghamshire at home to Lancashire and Essex at Somerset.
Anything else and the connotations get complicated.
Both teams will be without key players at The Oval because of international duty. With Stephen Harmison injured and Liam Plunkett hopelessly out of form, Ben Stokes will also be unavailable having been called into England’s squad for the limited-overs games with India. Surrey will be without fast bowler Jade Dernbach for the same reason.
With his 150 at Edgbaston earlier this season, Stokes is one of the Durham youngsters who has progressed in the 40-over format in 2011. Mark Stoneman (when fit) and Mitchell Claydon have also performed well recently in all forms of the game.
Today Cook will be looking for the senior players to do their share of the work, as they did in the first half of the season.
“As we said at the start of the season, we’re always trying to develop young players,” he stressed. “Stokes, Stoneman to a very small extent played really well, Mitch Claydon’s starting to perform well in all forms of cricket so his game’s coming along very well. Then you have Mark Wood showing he’s got some ability. These are the guys you need to keep progressing all the time.
“At the same time if you’re going to win your matches you need the senior players around them to be performing as consistently as they have over the last three or four years.”
Mark Wood keeps his place in the squad despite picking up a slight side strain last week, while Graham Onions and Scott Borthwick are back from England duty.
Michael Di Venuto is back to open the batting having missed the last couple of 40-over games in an attempt to protect his damaged finger.
The draw for the semi-finals will be made tonight, and the games played on Sunday. The final is at Lord’s on September 18.
DURHAM (from): Di Venuto, Mustard (wk), Stoneman, Collingwood, Benkenstein (c), Blackwell, Borthwick, Breese, Claydon, Onions, Thorp, Rushworth, Wood, Smith, G Muchall.
Durham will qualify as the best runners-up by not losing to Surrey today. They could also lose and go through, depending on other results.
Surrey are the only team guaranteed to play in the semi-finals, as Group B winners.
Sussex will win Group A if they do not lose at Middlesex today.
Middlesex can only go through by beating Sussex by a large enough margin to overtake their net run-rate. They cannot go through as the best second-placed side.
Somerset will definitely win Group C if they avoid defeat to Essex. Even then they could still do it.
Nottinghamshire can only go through if they beat Lancashire. If Essex also beat Somerset, the team with the best run-rate from Somerset and Nottinghamshire will progress. That is currently Somerset. If Nottinghamshire and Somerset both win and Durham lose, net run-rate will decide who goes through as the best second-placed team between Nottinghamshire and Durham.
Although they have the same points as Nottinghamshire, and could finish level on points with Group C leaders Somerset, Essex cannot go through as they have not won enough matches.
TODAY’S CRUCIAL GAMES
Group A: Middlesex v Sussex
Group B: Surrey v Durham (live on Sky Sports)
Group C: Somerset v Essex, Nottinghamshire v Lancashire.