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Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Stokes nerve guides Durham to title

Durham 166 for 7 (Stoneman 52, Stokes 38*, Patel 4-25) beat Warwickshire 165 (Chopra 64, Breese 3-30) by three wickets
Scorecard

Durham claimed their second major limited-overs title to cap another season as county cricket's magnificent overachievers. Ben Stokes played the pivotal hand, as he had done in the semi-final, though a nuggety, unbeaten 38 was in direct contrast to his 164 against Nottinghamshire. Warwickshire, 20 years on from their glorious treble, had to make do with just one extra trophy in the cabinet this season.

The Royal London Cup may come to be the proving ground for a generation of England players capable of winning the World Cup but a gloomy day in late September was an occasion for traditional virtues. Varun Chopra and Mark Stoneman struck contrasting half-centuries in a low-octane thriller in which ball dominated bat and the result remained uncertain throughout. Neither side managed a fifty partnership but, even though Lord's was only half full, tension slowly seeped through the crowd until Gareth Breese signed off his Durham career with the winning runs.

With the ground swaddled in cloud, Warwickshire were suffocated by a blanket of seam, Durham's bowlers proving adept at utilising favourable conditions. It was Jeetan Patel, however, who did most to prevent Warwickshire's double bubble from bursting, a guileful display of offspin rewarded with figures of 4 for 25. Patel and Rikki Clarke claimed six of the seven wickets and conceded just 45 runs from 17 overs but the rest of the Warwickshire attack could not quite match those exacting standards.

Clarke had reduced Durham to 12 for 2, the wickets of Phil Mustard and Calum MacLeod celebrated with manic glee, but Stoneman retaliated with several fours struck crisply through the off side. Durham's position after the first ten overs was a healthy 48 for 2, Stoneman with three-quarters of the runs; Warwickshire, by contrast, made 27 for 1 in the Powerplay, their lone boundary a thick edge through backward point.

Durham, with no worries about the run rate, were clear favourites until Patel trapped Stoneman lbw for 52 out of a total of 74. Paul Collingwood appeared the likeliest candidate to guide the chase from that point, before misjudging a delivery from Oliver Hannon-Dalby and steering to point. With 43 required from 18 overs, there was the extraordinary site of Patel bowling with four men around the bat; Gordon Muchall coolly punched four down the ground before being defeated by one that skidded on.

Durham prevailed through the collective, a feature of their campaign. They did not have a player in either the top five run-scorers or wicket-takers but they have the trophy. Their budgets may be ever more squeezed but their spirit is indefatigable.

For most of the Warwickshire innings, the run rate barely crept above three an over, as they stumbled to 68 for 5. Only Chopra, his limited-overs form this season a Royal London purple, achieved anything like permanence before being bowled behind his legs for 64 during the batting Powerplay. He required some luck, though no more than any batsman deserved with the ball nibbling around, surviving a confident lbw appeal and edging short of the slips. His partnership of 47 with Chris Woakes was the highest of the innings, enough to prompt a mournful, drawn out "You Bears!" from the Warwickshire section of the crowd.

Woakes was making his first appearance of the competition, having been previously unavailable with England. With the ball, his opening four-over spell cost 34, ceding the early momentum to Durham and it was Stokes who emerged the clear winner in the battle of the England allrounders. When his attempted reverse sweep off Patel flicked the bottom edge of the bat, scuttled past leg stump and through Tim Ambrose's legs for four, it was clearly going to be Stokes' day.

There was England past as well as present to the fore. Collingwood, living up to his reputation as one of the most miserly bowlers in the competition, removed Jonathan Trott, another enjoying the return to a 50-over format, with his third ball. Collingwood's wobbly medium pace was a perfect foil for Durham's quicks as he and Stokes picked up 3 for 5 in 19 balls to remove the stuffing of the Warwickshire innings.

Only 13,660 tickets had been sold in advance, although the MCC hoped the attendance would be swelled by members and those purchased on the day, as well as a £1 offer for children. The empty seats and grey skies contributed to the sense of the domestic one-day showpiece continuing to go the way of LPs and printed books. Perhaps the ECB could look into making the experience downloadable?

A two-week gap between the semi-finals and final did not aid ticket sales, while staging the game in the latter half of September remains contentious. Ironically, one of the more weather-obsessed nationals had dubbed this month "sizzling September" but the brief heatwave had evaporated and the floodlights were required throughout. With T20 Finals Day now the big draw in August, it is difficult to see how the schedule could be much more commodious for what is now cricket's third format.

So it was that on a damp, chilly morning, Stoneman won the toss and chose to insert Warwickshire just as easily as he might have fallen off a log. Attention quickly focused on Chris Rushworth, the "Sunderland Sensation" fresh from taking 15 wickets in a day against Northamptonshire earlier in the week. Rushworth's second ball drew an edge from William Porterfield that dropped short of slip and it was quickly clear that batting would be a struggle for parity, let alone supremacy. It wasn't until the 14th over that a genuine stroke off the middle of the bat went for four, Chopra lacing Rushworth through mid-off.

Such was the glut of chances Durham created early on that they could afford to drop Ambrose and Clarke without it causing too much damage. Collingwood, unusually, shelled a simple chance at first slip to reprieve Ambrose but removed the batsman himself with a delivery that swung. Phil Mustard then put down Clarke second ball, diving one-handed to his right, but Stokes removed the fielders from the equation and hit the stumps two overs later.

A stunning MacLeod catch saw off Woakes, giving Breese a first wicket in his final appearance for Durham before expected retirement. Breese, along with Collingwood and Mustard, is a survivor from the 2007 FP Trophy final, when Durham won their maiden silverware as a first-class county. He picked up two more bowling to the tail and then steered the winning boundary (attempting to leave). After all the nerves, Durham had Breesed it.