Draw from the jaws of defeat

First published in Sport by

WHILE we may deride sportsmen who appear to have been to the finishing school for clichés, there was a certain degree of truth in the draw against Somerset feeling like a win.

Having been only able to stand back and admire Marcus Trescothick’s fluid 144 and feel twinges of regret that he’s not still an England batsman, the failure to dismiss Nick Compton, as he batted along at a pace which recalled Shiv Chanderpaul’s refusal to be dismissed against England a few summers back by simply boring bowlers into submission, looked to have lost any chance of winning the game within less than two days.

The first innings collapse and subsequent follow on seemed to have condemned Durham to defeat, but not for the first time this season, reserves of mental toughness meant that even at this early stage, the possibility of a third Championship in four years doesn’t seem a ludicrous possibility if, and it’s a big if, the bowling attack can get fit.

The game at times looked a chastening experience for Ruel Brathwaite, who for all his early season promise, still has a degree of rawness and would look most likely to drop out of the team when the likes of Harmison and Plunkett are fit.

While previous Championship wins have been built on that bowling attack, the batsmen have started taking centre stage in a way that they didn’t to the same extent in 08 and 09.

Ben Stokes’ ability to play his natural game under adversity, with a gallant disregard for the situation and majestic shot playing while being watched by England selector James Whittaker, naturally grabbed the headlines as his burgeoning status as the next big thing grew, but Michael Di Venuto’s contribution should not be overlooked.

Falling just short of 200 runs in the match, it’s yet another occasion where the team would be utterly lost without his steadying influence at the top of the innings.

If Stokes can become anywhere near as consistently prolific as Di Venuto, then Durham will see about as much of him as they have of Paul Collingwood in recent years.

Di Venuto and Stokes have reputations as expansive stroke players, but the outstanding start to the one-day campaign by Gordon Muchall has been less spectacular in the terms of this post Twenty20 world, and his sheer relentless accumulation has been calmly impressive as he stands, at the time of writing, as the highest run scorer in the competition.

Muchall himself has spoke of everyone in the one-day side now knowing their role, and twin anchor alongside Benkenstein, has allowed the more expansive players such as Stokes, Mustard, Coetzer and most recently Breese clear the rope and reap the plaudits.

The bowlers had the game against Hampshire won at the halfway stage, due in no small part to Stokes finding his range with devilish yorkers while enjoying the protection of a spread one-day field, and a marvellously tight spell from Mitch Claydon; a man looking ever more a one-day specialist Kyle Coetzer’s inevitable century against his fellow countrymen may just be a vital innings in his summer after a lacklustre start, with the likes of the soon to be fit Stoneman, Collingwood and perhaps fit Di Venuto breathing down his neck for a place.

Quite how the mix and match one day team would look with everyone fit, if indeed that ever happens, remains a mystery, but to even have a fighting chance at this stage felt unlikely in April.

If Durham can still be competing on both fronts come June and T20, then riding out these injuries would be a massive achievement.

JAMES TIERNAN

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