Bowled over by Durham
Before getting down to the serious business of congratulating them, a word of thanks to Durham for their efficient demolition of Kent in the final match, which quelled the nervous palpitations of this Yorkshire fan during the last round of matches. At the beginning of day two, with Yorkshire starting on 84-6 and looking destined for zero points, relegation had looked certain but the heroics of David Wainwright and Adil Rashid down at Hove and the lack of same from Kent at Canterbury allowed me to follow the last couple of days with equanimity.
So, all hail Durham!
If any single number other than the points total can sum up why a team won the championship, Durham’s collective bowling average for the season was 23 compared to 28 for Nottinghamshire, their nearest rivals, and about 30 or more for everyone else. (I am indebted to Paul Hyett, a statistician of my electronic acquaintance, for that observation.) Batsmen can win one-day trophies but winning in two-innings cricket requires bowlers - and Durham have certainly had bowlers.
Steve Harmison’s 60 wickets at 22 were impressive enough to earn a recall for England but his less-renowned pace partners, Mark Davies with 39 wickets at 15 and Callum Thorp with 50 at just under 20, have had better returns without grabbing the headlines. And this is a county which also has regular members of the England Lions, Graham Onions and Liam Plunkett, on its books. All of these are home-grown, so the Championship win is a massive endorsement of Durham’s system of talent identification and development, at least in pace bowling.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about their batting, which relied heavily on long-serving imports, Michael di Venuto and captain Dale Benkenstein, or spin bowling, which was rather inadequately provided by New Zealand mediocrity Paul Wiseman. The bright spot up the order was Will Smith, who returned home after trying his luck with Notts, averaged 51.38 at No. 3, and started the wagging of tongues about future international prospects. Word is that he is likely to succeed to the captaincy now that Benkenstein has stood down.
In the end, though, this championship was Steve Harmison’s. Rob Steen’s otherwise excellent article about him turns out to have been inaccurate in one respect by attributing his failure to take a break after the ODI series to his being turbo-charged by the prospect of Stanford millions, a suggestion which keeps being cynically made without a shred of evidence in its favour but copious evidence against.
It has emerged Harmison originally asked not to even be considered for Stanford, and that his return to the one-day side was on the strict understanding that he would not be told to desert his county on the Championship run-in. He had achieved his personal target, that of getting back into the Test side, and was determined to help his main team of the season achieve their target too. It is rare enough for a centrally-contracted player to make a significant contribution to his county, let alone insist on it; doing it and covering himself and his team in historic glory seems more the stuff of epic poetry than Wisden.
I would have preferred that a modern Virgil sing of the elevation of Darren Gough to the roll of Championship-winning Yorkshire captains in his final first-class season, but he will instead extol the deeds of Stevius and his companions in ‘The Dunelmiad’. It will be a stirring tale, leaving no-one in doubt that Durham thoroughly deserved their success and our congratulations.