By Sanjay Suri
Durham County Cricket Club have started the 2023 County Championship in promising fashion, topping the Division Two standings after the first four matches. They bounced back from a narrow loss in Sussex in the opening game with two wins and a draw, laying down the gauntlet to their rivals.
Durham, who have won the County Championship three times since the turn of the century, have been fortunate to be far less affected by the rainy April than their rivals. Whilst wet weather hampered their pursuit of victory in Cardiff against Glamorgan, all three other matches have produced a result, leaving the side top of the table in the early stages, having amassed 64 points.
Key performances have come from both those who are attempting to re-establish themselves in their international set-up and players who have developed into seasoned county cricketers in recent years. Alex Lees and Matthew Potts in particular will be hoping that these performances will cause the England selectors a few headaches ahead of the summer Tests.
Lees currently has two half-centuries to his name, averaging just shy of 43. The opener’s performances have been particularly impressive considering that the English pitches have been very green and tricky to bat on so far. His grittiness and patience could well be required against a fearsome Australian seam bowling attack come June.
Potts has been steadily accumulating wickets in each innings, consistently challenging the opposition top-order. His five- wicket haul versus Derbyshire was evidence of the seamer’s quality and, given that he fell out of favour with England in 2022, he will want to push on in order to resurrect his international career.
However, it has been the uncapped players who have stood out the most. Ollie Robinson is currently the second highest run scorer in the division, including a strong century in the most recent encounter with Derbyshire. The wicketkeeper continues to add middle-order runs to back up the strong starts from those in the top order.
The runs have certainly been flowing for Durham, illustrated by the fact that four of the top eight run scorers in Division Two play for this side. David Bedingham, Michael Jones and Brydon Carse are amongst the names who have looked in good touch with the bat so far.
All-rounder Carse has also been a threat with the ball, with eleven wickets to his name. As well as Carse and Potts, Ben Raine is constantly amongst the wickets, currently the leading wicket taker in the division with 16 scalps.
Australian spinner Matthew Kuhnemann initially starred, but a recent hamstring injury means that his place in the team in the near future is uncertain. Durham have temporarily replaced him with Lancashire’s Matthew Parkinson, who was steady on his debut for the side.
Durham last won the County Championship in 2013, and endured a difficult campaign last year, finishing sixth in a season dominated by too many home draws. They will be hoping to return to Division One for the first time since 2016 but will be fully aware that their performances have not been perfect.
Having failed to capitalise on a first innings lead in Hove, Durham could not bowl out the Sussex tail, succumbing to a two-wicket loss. Victory against Worcestershire was a hard-fought one, but Durham managed to take the final wicket as the light was fading on the final day. Despite looking in control against Glamorgan, the rain wiped out nearly two days of play, meaning that Durham could not make the most of a sizable first innings total.
The spoils were shared, but fortunately the points system meant that Durham took a healthy 13 points from the match, compared to Glamorgan’s nine. Last weekend brought Derbyshire to Chester-Le-Street, and Durham immediately tried to take rain out of the equation.
Buoyed by centuries from Robinson and Carse, Durham scored in excess of four and a half per over, immediately applying scoreboard pressure. Derbyshire duly crumbled under the pressure, scoring just 165 in the first innings thanks to an electric start by the Durham bowling attack.
After enforcing the follow- on, Durham were able to wrap up victory with a day to spare in spite of a middle-order flurry. This dominant performance is the kind that will win championships, but Durham must back this up with consistency. Their rivals are yet to show their hand, due to the large numbers of draws so far, but, unlike last year, Durham are very much in the mix for promotion.
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