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Durham looking to the future
IT might not be the decider as Durham will still have four games left and Yorkshire three, but the clash at Scarborough starting today will go a long way towards deciding the destiny of the LV County Championship title.
If it's the same sort of flat track as when the sides last met in four-day cricket at North Marine Road in 2005 the match will be drawn, which would favour Yorkshire as they are 25.5 points ahead of their second-placed neighbours.
That was the year both teams were promoted. Durham scored 414 with Dale Benkenstein making 126 then Yorkshire replied with 475 for six, Phil Jaques scoring 172.
They also met at Scarborough the previous year, when Gareth Breese enjoyed a ten-wicket match haul as Durham won by 210 runs.
Now in his tenth season, Breese may have played his last game for Durham in Monday's YB 40 win against Surrey, unless he decides to accept a one-day contract while also playing as a club professional next year.
There was an obvious case for selecting him for today's game as the pitch often takes spin, but Durham have preferred 19-year-old Ryan Buckley in their 13-man squad.
Since his five-wicket haul on his debut at the Oval in April the former Darlington RA off-spinner's only appearance was at Taunton in May. But his inclusion ahead of Breese confirms Durham's determination to look to the future.
Ten of the 13 in their squad have come through the academy and the rest of the country might note that the top two teams were the only ones without an overseas player until Yorkshire signed New Zealander Kane Williamson.
Jaques, like Durham's Keaton Jennings, has a British passport and while the Australian is not as prolific as in 2005 he will presumably open Yorkshire's innings at the expense of either Adam Lyth or Alex Lees.
With Williamson, Andrew Gale, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance to follow it's a strong batting line-up and the Tykes will rely on weight of runs to make sure they avoid defeat.
They have only one spinner, Adil Rashid, in their 14 so they are not expecting a turning track, in which case Durham are likely to stick with four seamers at Buckley's expense.
The alternative is to decide they need to win the match and take the bold gamble of playing an extra bowler rather than have the insurance of Michael Richardson batting at No 8.
Since scoring 70 in his first appearance at Taunton and following up with 26 and 55 at home to Warwickshire he has totalled 35 in five innings.
Durham skipper Paul Collingwood suffered a back problem on Monday, but it would have to be pretty serious to keep him out of this contest.
"We've got a big run-in and this is a massive game," he said. "The key is to take 20 wickets and our bowlers have high skill levels. The younger ones are not the finished article but they are all capable of wicket-taking spells.
"Mark Wood showed that on the last day against Surrey - he's like a coiled spring waiting to be unleashed.
"It will be very difficult to choose between him and Jamie Harrison when Graham Onions is fit again, hopefully next week."
Durham (from): P D Collingwood (capt), M D Stoneman, K K Jennings, S G Borthwick, W R Smith, B A Stokes, P Mustard, M J Richardson, M A Wood, C Rushworth, J Harrison, U Arshad, R S Buckley.
n Durham will hope to get the most out of Ben Stokes at Scarborough over the next four days as he will miss their next two championship matches.
The all-rounder was named yesterday in the England one-day squad for one match against Ireland and five against Australia.
The trip to Dublin is next Tuesday, when Durham start their home game against Sussex and Stokes will also miss the trip to Derby on September 11-14.
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