Yet another false dawn on horizon?

First published in Sport by

WITH Twenty20 banished to the corner of the memory, like some kind of inexplicable naughty dog blamed for ills which were in no small part self-inflicted, this was the week that had been triple-ringed in red on the calendar as the time in which Durham were going to turn their season round and kick on to September glory, charging down the final straight like Kelly Holmes fired from a trebuchet carrying news of victory and inexplicable mixed metaphors.

That of course, didn't even threaten to happen, with the season continuing to limp along in a way which has been remarkable for its sheer number of false dawns.

The weather-ruined Championship game against Lancashire almost certainly saved Durham from defeat, after failing to build on having Lancashire reeling at 110-5.

The return of Shiv Chanderpaul reminded us all, should a reminder have been needed, of just what Durham have been lacking this season, namely a solid middle-order presence to dig in during times of adversity.

Geoff Cook had remarked earlier in the season that the absence of an overseas player would help to develop the young talent at the club, and while Paul Collingwood's rare jaunt out in a Durham shirt covered for that absence this time, it was significant that next time out the Chanderpaul-shaped gap will be filled by Gordon Muchall getting his approximately one millionth last chance in the County Championship first team.

Of course, Muchall was then the only batsman of note against Nottinghamshire over 40 overs, as nouveau-bogeyman Alex Hales continued to stick it to Durham, with the kind of aplomb usually reserved for an Australian realising that he has 11 whole bunnies to face in the upcoming game and they go by the name 'England'.

Muchall should rightly be applauded for that innings, but he's hardly the fresh-faced future of the club that Cook had been trumpeting.

That fresh-faced future, in this case Ben Stokes who spent this week training with the England set-up prior to the Trent Bridge Test, had, in the words of Cook had to deal with "Twenty20 putting a brake on a lot of player development", which seems accurate and somewhat inevitable as the players bounced from ground to ground like a minor rock band in a Transit van.

With what seems like a positively luxurious empty week before the Scotland game, Durham players must be sat, twiddling their thumbs like school children come the second week of their holiday, realising that really, perhaps six weeks is an awfully long time.

This sense of killing time or perhaps even catching up with the housework, can only be compounded by further ridiculous scheduling which will see a madcap charge from Southampton to Manchester, with less than 24 hours between games.

The ECB can preach about county cricket providing the best preparation for the international scene, but there does seem to be a point where England's best young players will suffocate under the neverending volume of cricket being crammed in to satisfy the commercial cravings of Twenty20 and the resultant rush to conclude everything else before the winter.

The Australians brought up on the high quality intensity of the Pura Cup must marvel at just how ridiculous it all seems.

But Durham shall battle on and hopefully a confidence-building win against Scotland will follow, as they face, at least on paper, significantly inferior opposition.

Can we prepare ourselves for another exciting false dawn on the back of it?

You bet we can, as sure as wickets follow rain.

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