In what was a disappointing season as a whole for Durham CCC, I look back at their fortunes across all three formats, as well as picking out some individual highlights of the season.
LV County Championship round-up:
After starting the season as many people’s favourites for the title they won in 2008 and 2009, they ended it relieved that they managed a sixth place finish.
Despite a good pre-season, which saw them bowl out Durham MCCU for just 18, their early season Championship form did not achieve such heights. An opening match loss to Nottinghamshire was followed by weather affected draws with Middlesex and Surrey, and the dream start to the season Durham had hoped for was quickly fading. Performances soon got worse, resulting in them failing to win any of their next five matches, ending in three defeats and two draws.
Suddenly half way through the season they found themselves bottom of the table, with no wins from their first eight matches. They were now in a serious relegation battle and something had to give. That sacrifice was made in early July when they chose to relieve Mustard of his captaincy duties and replace him with experienced Collingwood. Performances steadily improved under Collingwood, with a draw against Worcestershire and a narrow 2-wicket defeat against Sussex in his first two matches in charge.
The defeat against Sussex, due to its closeness, brought a new confidence to the side. Despite being bowled out for just 93 in their second innings, they had a strong Sussex side eight down chasing just 94 for victory.
This sparked a dramatic change in fortunes for Durham, as they went on to record four victories on the bounce: Middlesex, Surrey, Nottinghamshire and Worcestershire were all disposed of, with the Durham seamers enjoying great late season success. A draw away at Liverpool against Lancashire in their penultimate fixture ensured championship safety and they finished the season off strongly, beating Sussex by five-wickets at Chester-le-Street.
The season as a whole was a disappointment, five wins in the last six matches shouldn’t paper of the cracks in the side. The fact is they failed to win any of their first ten matches of the season and this was their lowest finish in six years.
The seam bowling throughout the season was to a high standard. Led by Graham Onions alongside the likes of Chris Rushworth, Callum Thorp and Ben Stokes, they regularly dismissed sides for under 200, and took a combined 171 championship wickets between them.
The spin bowling was nothing more than steady throughout. Ian Blackwell started off the season as the man in possession, but after picking up just ten wickets in five matches, he was replaced by Scott Borthwick to bring more balance to the side. Borthwick, despite claiming only 15 wickets in 13 matches, is still a work in progress and worth persisting with.
The batting is where Durham will be most concerned. In 28 innings they only passed 300 four times. Individually only four hundreds were scored throughout, compared with last season’s 19 and they finished the season with just 18 batting points, 29 less than in 2011.
During their winless start to the season, they looked like a side that had grown old together. Michael Di Venuto, Dale Benkenstein and Collingwood are all the wrong side of 35 and it looked as if age was finally catching up with the trio. Di Venuto called it a day in early July and although the form of both Collingwood and Benkenstein steadily improved over the final months of the season, neither man averaged over 35.
Clydesdale Bank Pro40 round-up:
Durham’s 2012 Pro40 form seemed to be heavily reliant on their success at home. They won their five completed matches at home and lost their five completed matches away from home. They eventually finished fifth in Group B and failed to reach the knockout stages.
Mark Stoneman (558 @ 69.75), Gordon Muchall (395 @ 49.37) and Mustard (475 @ 47.50) all impressed with the bat in their 11 innings, whilst Rushworth’s 15 wickets at 18.66 earned him more first-class opportunities.
Large home victories over Surrey (by 142 runs), Nottinghamshire (by 91 runs) and Glamorgan (by 59 runs) were particular highlights while defeats away to Surrey (by 60 runs) and Somerset (by 8 wickets) were disappointing.
Overall the team needs to improve their poor away record for next season. Admit the early season Championship struggles, they used the Pro40 to have a look at different players as the likes of Mitchell Claydon, Liam Plunkett and Gareth Breese were given the opportunity to showcase their skills with the ball.
It remains a mystery as to how they managed to rack up three 300 plus scores in ten Pro40 matches and just four in 28 Championship innings.
Friends Life T20 round-up:
Durham’s T20 performances were much like their Pro40 performances, great in patches and poor in others.
Their campaign got off to a bad start before it had even begun with the news that their star overseas player Mitchell Johnson had been called up to Australia’s ODI squad, thus making him unavailable for the entirety of their T20 run.
After much searching and ringing around from the county’s hierarchy they had to settle for little known 31-year-old South African Johann Myburgh as their second overseas player to accompany compatriot Herschelle Gibbs.
The Dynamo’s started off strongly with a 2-run win against eventual runners-up Yorkshire, before a 7-wicket home defeat to Nottinghamshire. A win over Derbyshire (by 5 wickets) was followed by losses to both Yorkshire (by 12 runs) and Lancashire (by 8 wickets) and wins over Derbyshire (by 8 wickets) and Leicestershire (by 9 wickets) before another defeat to Nottinghamshire by 41-runs.
A quarter final place was still up for grabs with two matches remaining, but an abandonment against Leicestershire and a tie against Lancashire put pay to that and their campaign ended in disappointment, as they finished third in the North Group behind Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.
As you would have expected, Gibbs impressed with the bat. He scored 277 runs at almost 40 with a strike rate of 117. Gibbs also recorded the county’s highest ever individual T20 score; with a knock of 83 not out against Derbyshire.
Young legspinner Borthwick was the most impressive with the ball, showing great maturity and control as he took 12 wickets at 20 in his nine matches with an economy rate of 7.74.
Bowler of the year: Graham Onions
With 64 Division One wickets in 12 matches at an average of 14.98, there can’t be any competition in this category. In another era of English cricket, Onions would have played more for his country this summer than a solitary Test against the West Indies in June. A superb line and length bowler, he found damp conditions to his liking over the summer and regularly claimed big rewards, this included five 5-wicket hauls and three 10-wicket match hauls. His 9-67 against title-chasing Nottinghamshire would certainly have been a personal highlight.
A mention must also go to fellow seamer Rushworth, who came into the Championship side after impressing in the early rounds of the Pro40. Sharing the new ball with Onions, he took 38 wickets at 16.38 in his nine matches, leading his side’s strong finish to the season.
Batsman of the year: Mark Stoneman
In what was a disappointing summer for the county’s batsmen, no one particularly deserves this accolade but after a lot of thought I have gone for Stoneman. Despite his modest Championship returns of 661 runs at 26.44 with just one hundred and two fifties, he showed as much application with bat as anyone in the side. Though it was in the Pro40 where the former England U-19 player really excelled this season, in ten innings he scored 558 runs at the high average of 69.75, this also included three tons and two fifties.
Elsewhere, only Collingwood (697 runs at 33.12) scored more Championship runs than Stoneman and Mustard deserves a mention too for his Pro40 form, like Stoneman he scored three hundreds and in all he racked up 475 runs at 47.50 in his ten innings.
Innings of the year: Phil Mustard (143 against Surrey)
In what was the first of two Pro40 centuries in two days for Mustard in early August, he blasted a superb 143 from just 91 balls, against a decent Surrey attack. Opening the batting with the inform Stoneman, the pair added 87 for the first wicket before Stoneman fell for a run-a-ball fifty, Mustard continued his assault and brought up his hundred from just 74 balls before scoring a further 43 runs in just 17 deliveries. By the time he was dismissed by Jon Lewis, going for one hit too many, he had 12 fours and seven sixes to his name and his side had progressed to 4-271 – more than enough for Durham to complete a 142-run victory.
Stoneman’s 114 against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge was the pick of the Championship innings, in a season where only four batsmen went past 100 in the format.
Spell of the year: Graham Onions (9-67 against Nottinghamshire)
At the start of the second day at Trent Bridge, Onions was still at Lords with the England squad for their Test match against South Africa, by the end of lunchtime he was in Nottingham destroying the home side’s batting singlehandedly.
Joining up with the Durham side after been omitted by England, he replaced Claydon in an arrangement set up by the ECB and began to set about his work.
Opening the bowling, he soon accounted for Alex Hales in the first over of the innings, before Michael Lumb was quickly followed by Adam Voges, Riki Wessels and Chris Reid. Notts had lost half of their side for 50 and Onions had five wickets to his name.
Not content with just five, he duly removed Steven Mullaney, Paul Franks and Graeme White, a ten-wicket haul was now looking a realistic possibility with just two wickets to claim.
Thoughts of Ottis Gibson’s 10-47 for Durham against Hampshire in 2007 began to come to mind, only for Onions to spoil it for himself by running out Luke Fletcher. He did go on to finish with nine though, as Andy Carter was cleaned up for duck to end the innings.
Disappointments of the year: Ian Blackwell, Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett
Despite the county having high hopes for their trio of ex-England internationals at the start of the season, one way or another things went dramatically wrong for Blackwell, Harmison and Plunkett.
The trio accounted for around £300,000 of Durham’s salary allocation, but they scored only 183 Championship runs, claimed just 15 Championship wickets and played only nine games between them all season.
Their high salaries alone are one of the reasons the county were slapped with a points deduction of 2.5 points in the LV= County Championship and 0.25 points in the Clydesdale Bank 40 and Friends Life t20 competitions for a breach of salary cap.
Harmison, who spent a three match loan spell at Yorkshire in July, will be back next season but the future of Blackwell and Plunkett remain less clear.
Blackwell enjoyed a productive spell on loan to champions Warwickshire towards the end of the season as a replacement for Kiwi Jeetan Patel. He fared better in the midlands where he scored 265 runs at 53 and took six wickets at 46.50.
Plunkett, who has a year left on his contract, has at the time of writing, been given permission to speak to other counties, in a bid to rejuvenate his once promising career.
Farewell to: Michael Di Venuto
Di Venuto announced his retirement in early July after a difficult start to the season ending a six-year association with the county.
The 38-year-old former Australian ODI opener decided to call it quits after averaging just 29.10 in his first five Championship matches of the season.
Since joining Durham in 2007, Diva has scored 6488 first-class runs, including 1654 in 2009 as Durham won their second consecutive Championship trophy.