Depressing days for Durham – Around The Wicket

: Durham batsman John Hastings in action against Warwickshire at Chester le Street. Picture: DAVID WOOD (8238994)

: Durham batsman John Hastings in action against Warwickshire at Chester le Street. Picture: DAVID WOOD (8238984)

: Durham batsmen Mark Wood and John Hastings in action against Warwickshire at Chester le Street. Picture: DAVID WOOD (8238961)

First published in Sport

It’s been nothing short of a dreadful week for Durham.

After the battling performance to salvage a draw against Yorkshire in the Championship, the games which followed have been unrelentingly depressing.

After a Ben Stokes inspired demolition of Sussex was followed by wins against Derbyshire and Yorkshire in the T20, the talk was of a possible late charge for the Championship and a quarter final berth, yet these notions seem impossible and unlikely respectively.

The T20 defeat to Yorkshire was essentially over at the halfway stage after Jonny Bairstow took on all comers in a scintillating display of batting.

Yet Durham didn’t do themselves any favours, with Usman Arshad looking particularly out of his depth when the tide turned against him.

With a score considerably above par, there seemed little confidence amongst the Durham ranks that they could chase the score down.

Mark Stoneman has been in horrible form in T20 and had he not been limited overs captain, he would presumably find his place under threat.

As the heir apparent to Paul Collingwood, the forthcoming 50-over competition will be a real test of his leadership credentials and his ability to maintain his form coupled with the burden of captaincy.

While performances of individual brilliance such as Bairstow’s are always more likely to win you T20 games, to win four day games you need as many players as possible firing on all cylinders.

And it’s this which was most concerning about the capitulation at home to Warwickshire.

Paul Collingwood’s decision to bowl first has drawn some retrospective criticism, but the high scores in the fourth innings of recent matches meant it was hardly a flight of fancy, even if Warwickshire did pile on a score which meant they were unlikely to ever lose the game.

Yet with the exception of John Hastings, who has been one of the few players to emerge with any credit over the last two weeks, the Durham attack was slack.

Graham Onions understandably looked short of match fitness and Chris Rushworth’s punishing season of leading the attack seems to be catching up with him.

Scott Borthwick may well have looked more threatening than he has in his injury plagued first half of the season but there remain doubts over his ability to lead the attack on such a flat pitch.

As a result the likes of Max Morley and Ryan Buckley will presumably coming into contention after the 50 over cup.

But the abject nature of the batting collapse, especially the second innings, made them look as if they are now in the thick of a relegation scrap.

Perhaps some of the recent backs against the wall performances, such as that against Yorkshire in the previous Championship game, were papering over the cracks of a fairly weak batting side.

The speed of the collapse from 75/2 to all out for 113 showed both the benefits of a quality experienced spinner but the mental fragility of a side out of the habit of winning.

The top six have all provided big scores this season, yet they’ve lacked consistency and a small squad offers few alternatives to refresh the line-up.

It’s conceivable that Calum MacLeod is a good 50 over competition away from a starting position and Gareth Breese may yet return once again to provide a second spinning option as well as further batting strength.

A break from the Championship may well be just what is needed, but that winning habit needs to return from somewhere and fast if repeating Lancashire’s unenviable trick of being relegated the year after winning it isn’t to be repeated.

JAMES TIERNAN

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