The most important day in Gloucestershire’s 2016 season came on 18th August at the Brightside Ground when Durham won the T20 quarter-final by 19 runs after the home county had topped the South Group.
It was a disappointing blow for Gloucestershire but tempered by the thought that one of cricket’s high-riders had dealt the blow. Indeed, the visit of Durham to Bristol had that aura. It was the elite visiting one of the Division Two also-rans.
But here we are in 2017, and although its tempting to still look at the Division One scores to see how Durham are faring, the reality is that they are now in the lower tier. The Northerners’ relegation, coupled with their draconian 48-point penalty to start the new campaign, was a bitter pill to swallow. As was the departure of two of their key players to Surrey (predictably, a county with none of Durham’s money worries) Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick.
It was unfortunate for Durham that their first Division Two game this Spring was against the promotion favourites Nottinghamshire. Any hopes of an easy return to the top flight were quickly dashed as they lost by nine wickets at the Emirates Riverside. After scoring only 152 in their first innings the hosts were playing catch-up as Nottinghamshire posted 305 in their first effort. But 250 in their second innings meant Nottinghamshire only had to get 110 to win, a target they achieved comfortably.
The Riverside game wasn’t without some positives for Durham. England’s newest batting recruit Keaton Jennings showed good form in the second innings with an unbeaten 102 and the ever- dependable seamer Chris Rushworth took 4-54 in Nottinghamshire’s first innings. But it was a performance upon which they will have to improve this weekend if they are to make inroads into that points deficit and get their campaign running.
Things are much less bleak at the Brightside Ground. This time last week, the West Countrymen were licking their wounds after a heavy defeat in their opening game at Canterbury. However, last weekend saw a dramatic upturn in form with an eye- catching thrashing of Leicestershire at Nevil Road by an innings at 106 runs.
Several of the Gloucestershire batsmen showed form in this match after a poor outing against Kent, the standout performer being Will Tavaré with an excellent 101. But the real star of the match was seamer Liam Norwell with five-fers in both Leicestershire innings, and match figures of 10-99.
This season Liam Norwell has arrived as one of the finest fast- medium bowlers in the Second Division. He has had a marvellous start taking 18 Championship wickets at 11 apiece. Now in his seventh summer at Nevil Road, the 26-year-old Cornishman (predictably nicknamed ‘Pastie’ by his teams mates) seems to be reaching his best.
It’s just as well that Gloucestershire, one of the counties which you would expect to be developing players for the richer counties, have signed Norwell until the end of 2018. With the expected presence of Mark Wood, Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth in Bristol for four days it will be a good test for Norwell to see just how far he has progressed.
The departure of Stoneman and Borthwick means that Durham have to replace their runs if they are to mount a viable promotion challenge. Hence the signing of South African Stephen Cook for the first half of the season.
Cook has an unusual profile in that he did not make his Test debut for his home country until he was 33. But it was a debut worth waiting for as he scored a century and helped South Africa to a win against the touring England side at Centurion. Cook’s father, Jimmy Cook (who didn’t make his Test debut until he was 40), will be remembered fondly by older West Country cricket followers for the successful time he had at Somerset. Cook Snr. scored over 7500 runs for the Cider County in his three summers in England. Stephen’s first-class record is also a healthy one – 13,000 runs at 40, so Durham will be hoping that his time in England will be as fruitful as that of his father a generation ago.
Gloucestershire coach Richard Dawson has named an unchanged squad for Durham’s visit. Young batsman George Hankins, so far unsuccessful in the Championship this season, but scored a hundred for the second XI this week, is retained.
Gloucestershire Squad: Phil Mustard (c, wk), Chris Dent, Cameron Bancroft, Will Tavare, Graeme van Buuren, George Hankins, Jack Taylor, David Payne, Craig Miles, Liam Norwell, Chris Liddle, Ollie Currill
Batsman Graham Clark has been added to the Durham squad. Clark has impressed at Second XI level and is in contention to play at Bristol. He is one of the options to replace Jack Burnham, who drops out of the squad after breaking his thumb in practice yesterday. The Northerners also include Cameron Steel after impressing in pre-season. England paceman Mark Wood again plays.
Durham Squad: Paul Collingwood (c), Keaton Jennings, Stephen Cook, Cameron Steel, Graham Clark, Michael Richardson, Ryan Pringle, Paul Coughlin, Stuart Poynter (w), Mark Wood, Brydon Carse, Chris Rushworth, Graham Onions
Weather and conditions:
The weather forecast for Bristol for the duration of the match is dry with average temperatures for mid-April. The pitch for the last match against Leicestershire was thought to be a good cricket wicket with a bit more pace than Bristol wickets have offered in recent seasons. Gloucestershire coach Dawson is said to be pleased with the pitch for the Durham game.
Date: 21st-24th April 2017
Time: 11.00 am.
Ground: Brightside Ground, Bristol.
Umpires: Stephen Gale, Jeremy Lloyds.
Odds (Sky Bet): Gloucestershire 1/1, Durham 4/5