September 29, 2008

Mike Holmans

Bowled over by Durham

Mike Holmans
The moment of victory: Steve Harmison bowls Martin Saggers to deliver Durham their maiden County Championship title, Kent v Durham, Canterbury, September 26, 2008
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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.

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Posted by Jan B on (October 5, 2008, 9:51 GMT)

Hi Mike, he has British parents, so is playing on a British passport. Surprised you didn't remember him taking a few wickets in a tour game vs England in 02/03.

Posted by Mike Holmans on (October 4, 2008, 19:42 GMT)

Jan, nice of you to drop in:

Oh, dear. So he is. On what basis is he playing, then?

Posted by Jan B on (October 2, 2008, 17:47 GMT)

"Callum Thorp with 50 at just under 20...All of these are home-grown"

Callum Thorp is from that part of Durham known as Australia. :-)

Posted by R. Thirucumaran, Sri Lanka on (October 1, 2008, 4:06 GMT)

Really, I have been stirred by Durham and have always been cheering them on ever since I read about their promotion to Division 1 in the Wisden Almanack 2006. Their heroics last year in the FP trophy kept me glued to my computer even though I had my A/Levels just around the corner, and their heroics this year had kept me glued to the last set of matches in Division 1. Really, a fab team, and, like Jim said, unbelievable is the recent form of Harmison who proved me wrong big time! I criticised his selection big time in my blog, but he sure made me bow my head down in shame after his performance in the ODI series against SA!

Another great development for the County Championship must be their first recruit from Sri Lanka! I'm definitely gonna' follow the LV County Championship eagerly from next year onwards! Gonna' spend the time till the next season doing my research on all the teams and their prospects!

Posted by Jim, Coventry on (September 30, 2008, 21:35 GMT)

An excellent and well balanced piece of journalism! I was one of Steve Harmison's biggest doubters and more vocal opponent, but even I am staggered at his improvement over the last 8 months. Such a rapid change in mental attitude coupled with a dedication to the cause - that many would do well to replicate - leave no doubt in my mind that Harmison is back to being one of the best pace bowles in country and is worth his place in the side.

Hearty congratulations also to Durham for winning the Championship, but I think the biggest winner in all of this is the Championship itself. For the second year running I've watched and read and waited with baited breath in anticipation for the final round of matches, still unsure who will actually walk away with the trophy. It has been a marvellous summer of domestic cricket with many plots, sub-plots, exciting twists and heart breaking endings. What a form of entertainment this cricket is!

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