By Ben Fleming
In a season with so many hurdles and obstacles, English cricket should be praised for its ability to strategize and implement a Covid secure plan which allowed cricket fans all across the country to see as much cricket as they did. A regionalised version of the County Championship, named in honour of the late great Bob Willis, provided some four-day entertainment whilst the t20 Blast continued into early October, to great success.
For Durham, this shortened season will be viewed with some disappointment, even if their results towards the end of the season have led to some much deserving optimism for the 2021 season.
In the Bob Willis Trophy, Durham failed to reach the levels expected of them, failing to win a single game in 5 outings. Heavy defeats against Yorkshire and Lancashire started the season with Durham failing to score more than 200 runs in 3 of those 4 innings. 2 heavily rain-affected draws were to follow before a good performance saw the team draw against Nottinghamshire.
The evergreen Chris Rushworth, who recently signed a two-year extension, at the age of 34, continued to provide consistency with the new ball taking 16 wickets at an average of 22.37. With the bat, Gareth Harte’s average of 41.66 is commendable but special mention must go to opener Alex Lees who with 3 fifties, one hundred and an average of 48.25, represented a bright spark in a largely bleak four-day campaign for Durham.
Moving forward in the longer format of the game, adding more consistency will be key. The other fast bowlers were largely rotated to avoid injury, but James Franklin and his coaching team will need to find a bowling unit to better support Rushworth for next season. Durham accrued the second-fewest batting points, and so more runs from the rest of the team, to help Lees and Harte will be required if Durham are to improve their fortunes in the longer format.
In the t20 Blast, it was very much a campaign of two halves. A lack of batting depth shone threw in the early games as Durham lost their first five games. However, a mammoth 55 run victory following a first innings score of 223 (Lees, 77 of 56 balls) saw a dramatic shift in the team’s form. Impressive bowling performances would lead to wins over Leicestershire, Yorkshire and Lancashire and leave Durham on the cusp of quarter-final qualification. A final game shootout against Notts would ultimately end in a disappointing 18 run defeat and leave Durham one win short of qualifying for the quarter-finals.
Despite starting poorly and ending in agonising circumstances, Durham can have a renewed sense of optimism going into their next t20 campaign. Alex Lees once more impressed, facing the second-most balls (290) and scoring the seventh-highest number of runs (365) of anyone in the competition, at an average of 52. An improvement on his strike rate of 125.86, should be the target for the opener next season if he is to be recognised, rightly so, as one of the best openers in the domestic short game.
With the ball, Paul Coughlin’s 13 wickets in 10 games is commendable but the shining star will be Matty Potts, who, at 21 years old, looks an exciting prospect. His 13 wickets, coming only at the expense of 7.34 runs an over, saw him named in Wisden’s Under-24 T20 Blast team of the tournament. His performances in Durham’s last three wins, with combined figures of 9-41, bode well for the fast bowling moving forward. If Durham can call upon the experience and quality of Stokes and Wood, with more frequency next season, they will boast a quietly impressive bowling line-up.
The abridged season will come as a disappointment for Durham, who were hitting their best form towards the season’s end. And, whilst the departure of promising young all-rounder Scott Steel has raised eyebrows, the return of homegrown, experienced all-rounder Scott Borthwick from Surrey adds great experience and will mean Durham fans can be rightly optimistic about their expectations going into the next season as they build a squad with an exciting blend of promising youth, established quality and older, wily experience.
Image: Ben Sutherland via Creative Commons