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News

Scott Borthwick says Royal London Cup still a prize worth fighting for

Durham and Glamorgan to contest most downgraded one-day final in English cricket history

David Hopps
David Hopps
18-Aug-2021
Scott Borthwick's 71 underpinned the Durham chase, Durham vs Surrey, Royal London Cup semi-final, Chester-le-Street, August 17, 2021

Scott Borthwick says competition still feels important  •  Getty Images

Durham and Glamorgan contest the most downgraded one-day final in English cricket history when they meet under the Trent Bridge floodlights on Thursday - but Durham's captain, Scott Borthwick, insists that it remains a prize worthy of a sleepless night or two.
For Alex Lees, Durham's opening batsman, it probably means a more disturbed night than most. With England's top order in disarray, there are a few noises about England potential again, although the days when a Player of the Match award in a 50-over final could get you on a plane for a winter tour are long gone.
With a sizeable chunk of professionals engaged in a Test series against India, or taking part in the inaugural season of the Hundred, county squads have been stretched to the limit. The Royal London Cup, a tournament that in recent years was already playing second fiddle to Finals Day in the Blast, is now further down the food chain.
With the play-offs, semi-finals and final all crammed into a six-day period, and the final scheduled for midweek, Trent Bridge will be relieved to be more than half full, and the ECB are already indicating that there could be a return to a weekend final whatever the make-up in the tournament in 2022.
This is now a tournament easy to knock, but the county game remains the lifeblood of hundreds of cricket professionals and is cared for by hundreds of thousands of followers. For many - maybe not enough, but many all the same - this final is not just an entertaining day out, but is fought out on their behalf by a club embedded into their lives.
Borthwick, who is in his first season as Durham captain, sees a Trent Bridge final as further indication that county cricket's most northerly outpost is putting troubled financial years behind it and can again become a powerhouse in the professional game.
"From the outside it might look like the Hundred has taken the glory and rightly so because that has been an amazing competition and brings money into the game," Borthwick said. "But every team has taken it seriously and playing in it feels important.
"I'm sorry it's not at Lord's, it's like an FA Cup final not being at Wembley, but having said that Trent Bridge is a fantastic ground and to captain the side in a final is a great honour.
"Part of our plan at the start of the season was to win a white-ball competition and this was one of them. We just missed out on Division One but we played some outstanding cricket and the belief is coming back. We showed we deserve to be playing proper cricket with the big boys."
It is perhaps no surprise that one of the finalists, Glamorgan, have been raided comparatively lightly by the Hundred; Welsh Fire's men's team is most notable for not actually having many Welshmen. Durham have had to make do without a trio of pace bowlers in Ben Raine, Matty Potts and Brydon Carse, as well as their oft-absent England pair, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood, although their top order has remained intact and has been a prime reason for their success.
Neil Snowball, the ECB's MD of county cricket, has called the Thursday final "a one-off" but an awful lot more debate will take place before the latest jumble commonly known as the English cricket season is revealed to the world.
Much attention will focus on Durham's prolific opening pair, Lees and Graham Clark, who can boast the most runs and highest averages in the competition. Lees' early years at Yorkshire brought praise from that most demanding of judges, especially when it comes to opening batters, Geoffrey Boycott, only for him to lose his way and head further north to Durham. Clark, who like Lees is 28, has had no such England pretensions, but he is enjoying the most successful period of his career.
"The way the two of them dovetail is lovely," Borthwick said. "They have got us off to a fantastic start time and again. Graham has come out and played his shots and gone really hard and Alex has had a strong season.
"I think Alex has the ability and mindset to play Test cricket. He is a very strong character. He is a much-improved player over the past couple of years. He is a mature batsman, knows his game and wouldn't let anybody down. He has turned himself into a very consistent run-scorer in four-day cricket and the white ball as well.
"Graham didn't actually get a big score in the T20, he got us off to flyers. I spoke to him before the competition and wanted him to keep playing the same way but if he got to 20 or 30 to realise he could kick on. His tempo has been brilliant. He has had the ability to make those starts into big scores."

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps