Title bid will falter without attack

First published in Sport by

IT TOOK six long days, but there came a point during the third day of the Championship game against Hampshire that - having seen Mitch Claydon injure himself leaving them a bowler short - Durham rubbed the sleep from their eyes and remembered at least some of the reasons that they'd managed to be champions for the last two seasons.

The sleeping and indeed awakening giant is, of course, one of the most overused clichés in sport, but while the team collectively did this through Liam Plunkett remembering that he is at his best when being aggressive and Kyle Coetzer continuing his promising start to the season, it was the image of Ian Blackwell stretching out his much maligned 'giant' physique and turning the game on its head.

While his wickets were vital last season and show every sign of being similarly so this, it was the sheer aggressive power in his batting which ensured a thrilling conclusion to the game.

There's something wonderfully old fashioned about Blackwell; a player who lets ability rather than fitness speak and the old-fashioned cricketing romantic in me loves him all the more for it.

While it seems unlikely that his brief international career will ever be reignited, certainly in one-day cricket whereby being an all-rounder now includes being a first rate fielder, there can't be many better players of his ilk in county cricket right now and he can certainly consider himself unlucky to have not made Wisden's list of the five cricketers of the year.

A glimpse into the modern all-rounder has been offered by the emergence of Ben Stokes, or 'young' Ben Stokes as he seems to be consistently prefixed at this moment in time.

After a slightly shaky start against Essex, perhaps understandable on his debut, the ability to break partnerships with medium pace bowling that recalls a young Paul Collingwood and a cool head to see the County Championship game home and aggressive middle order hitting in the Pro 40, Stokes looks every inch the modern, complete cricketer.

While this may be getting a little ahead of the curve, Stokes' early performances this season and his crucial innings for the England under-19s suggest that he currently looks to have the potential to be the next Durham player to receive international honours.

The Pro 40 win, for all it was impressive in the way in which Durham's top order shone while Hampshire's looked as if they were playing wrong handed with a stick of rhubarb, was most notable for the makeshift bowling attack.

Three years after being released from the academy and having clawed his way back through impressive performances for Sunderland, Chris Rushworth looked to have great control as he bounded in with his broad frame which again conjured up seamers of yesteryear.

The headlines went to perennial nearly man Will Gidman, another very modern all-rounder who finally got what he deserved with the ball, but it was Rushworth who arguably looked the more impressive bowler and was duly awarded with his first start as the injury curse struck Callum Thorp in the warm-up to the Yorkshire game.

Gidman, who has regularly been used purely as a bowler, regularly bats up the order for the second XI and should the current curse afflicting the pace attack continue, it will be interesting to see whether he is given that opportunity to bat in the middle order for the first team.

So with a glimmer of optimism, the one-day campaign kicks off, but surely the senior attack needs to return if a sustained challenge is to be mounted.


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