Breese provides another Durham 'fairytale'
Ten years ago, in Gareth Breese's first season with Durham, the youngest first-class county finished bottom of Division Two of the Championship. On Saturday at Lord's, Breese struck the winning runs in what is likely to be his final appearance for the club, earning Durham their fifth major trophy since 2007. It was no surprise that the word "fairytale" cropped up.
Durham's success has not been a case of waving a magic wand, however. Their resources are more limited than most, part of the reason that Breese will not be staying on. While the team that won Durham's first piece of silverware, the 2007 FP Trophy, was built around experienced signings such as Michael Di Venuto, Dale Benkenstein and Ottis Gibson, this side featured important contributions from homegrown players such as the captain, Mark Stoneman, England allrounder Ben Stokes and Chris Rushworth.
Breese, along with Paul Collingwood and Phil Mustard, played in both games. The 38-year-old Jamaican, who holds a British passport, could not eat his Lord's lunch due to nerves but showed stomach for the fight when joining Stokes in the middle with Durham seven down and 36 short of victory. His unbeaten 15 followed 3 for 30 with the ball.
"He's been outstanding in his contributions for Durham and for him to go out on a high, hit the winning runs in a Lord's final - you couldn't script it any better really," Stoneman said.
Breese has not retired, despite being released, and is open to offers of a contract elsewhere. Pride in what Durham had achieved was his overriding emotion as he held the Royal London Cup, which had become a handy receptacle for a celebratory rum. "If it's my last game at this level, then I've had a fantastic last game," he said.
"It's a bit bittersweet. I'm enjoying my cricket, I'd love to play a bit more but circumstances dictate and I'm moving on. It's just been a fantastic farewell to have another team performance and bring another trophy to the northeast.
"To move from being one of the beating sticks of county cricket to having won five trophies in the last seven years, that is what the club is all about ... We've had some really good Kolpak and overseas players come in over the last few years, like Di Venuto and Benkenstein, who've contributed so much to Durham, and we've been able to mix that with the academy players we've been able to produce. You saw today, Paul Coughlin come in and have a really fantastic game.
"I was so nervous sitting in the dressing room, I couldn't eat my lunch - lunch at Lord's is fantastic, and not to eat it says enough. I just kept pacing the dressing room and in the back of my mind was 'Can we pull this off'?'"
They could, despite the best efforts of Jeetan Patel and a tenacious Warwickshire side who lost an important toss but fought to keep their hopes of a limited-overs double alive. When Breese attempted to leave what turned out to the final delivery of the match and the ball squirted off the bat to third man for the winning boundary, the boisterous team celebrations, which included a rendition of "Blaydon Races" with the Durham supporters, could begin.
It completed their sixth 50-over win in a row as part of a dramatic late-season resurgence, which has seen them win six consecutive games in all competitions. In August, when Durham lost by one wicket to Lancashire, the 2013 champions were second from bottom in Division One; they could end up finishing second, to go with the Royal London title.
In the revamped one-day competition Durham only used 13 players, again testament to a tight-knit squad. Stoneman also had praise for Coughlin after his first ever appearance at Lord's as a replacement for John Hastings, Durham's overseas signing who had left to take part in the Champions League. Next season, they can expect to see less of Stokes - though his ECB central contract may free up some funds to spend elsewhere - and Breese's departure will also leave a hole to fill in limited-overs cricket.
"It's going to be tough but when I look a the way we've gone this season, if we've lost a player someone has come in and performed," Stoneman said. "There's definitely strength and depth in the club and some younger players coming through, which is why Durham County Cricket Club came about in the first place. There are a lot of good cricketers in the region, so hopefully that production line can continue."
Durham's team spirit and sense of the collective was summed up the Man of the Match, Stokes: "We've been around each other for a number of years now and we know how everyone plays cricket and everyone's personality. Everyone fits into the changing room and we're not just colleagues, we're mates as well. I think that goes a long way to how successful we've been this year."
The celebrations, Stoneman acknowledged, would be at the player's own expense. "But we'll not worry too much about that." Durham, it seems, have a few things that money can't buy.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick