Sussex will look to continue their excellent start to the County Championship campaign when they make the long trip to Durham and Chester-le-Street, starting on Sunday.
Two wins from two fixtures sees Mark Robinson’s side sitting proudly on the perch of Division One as they look to win their first Championship title since 2007. Whilst their victories so far have come against sides likely to be featuring close to the bottom of the table, Hampshire and Worcestershire, the signs are there for Sussex to be pushing towards the business end come September.
Ajmal Shahzad has proved to be nothing short of a revelation down at Hove, having struggled to engratiate himself fully into the bowling attacks at Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, despite showing glimpses that earned him international recognition. The 29-year-old has 12 wickets to his name so far this season, including a match-winning five-wicket haul against Worcestershire last time out, whilst he has averaged close to 50 with the bat – deservedly topping the Most Valuable Player list so far this season.
Durham, meanwhile, also boast a 100% record thus far this season, although the North East side have played just the one game so far, when a Paul Collingwood-inspired performance led to a well-earned victory over Somerset. Like Sussex, Collingwood and co. will also have at least half an eye on the title following their success in 2013, a season in which they gained victory in the subsequent fixture in their late season blitz to glory.
The hosts were also successful when the two sides last met, also at the Riverside, where centuries from Mark Stoneman and Keaton Jennings led Durham to a thumping 309-run victory, although the match will be remembered for Ben Stokes’ incredible bowling display, taking 7/65 in Sussex’s first innings last June.
109 runs without being dismissed, plus six wickets including a five-wicket haul – all in a game’s work for Paul Collingwood. The veteran all-rounder proved he still has it against Somerset a couple of weeks ago, and the 38-year-old will be desperate to show that this wasn’t just a one-off event, as he looks to lead Durham to a fourth County Championship title, adding to an already-impressive CV in the process.
Although he wasn’t due to be playing in the game, Matt Machan surely caused the selectors some welcome problems with an excellent 135 from just 100 balls against Worcestershire. The 24-year-old may only have 21 first-class games under his belt, but an average of 36 is certainly a solid foundation to build on. The Scotland international has also spent time, ironically, with Collingwood, who was part of the Saltires’ international setup during 2014 and the 2015 World Cup.
Whilst Durham have named an unchanged 13-man squad from their victory at Taunton, impressive performances from Ryan Pringle and Usman Arshad, on Second XI duty, could lead to some changes in the final team.
Durham squad: Paul Collingwood (captain), Usman Arshad, Scott Borthwick, Paul Coughlin, John Hastings, Keaton Jennings, Calum MacLeod, Phil Mustard (wicketkeeper), Ryan Pringle, Graham Onions, Michael Richardson, Chris Rushworth, Mark Stoneman
Chris Nash returns for the visitors after missing the last game due to a hamstring injury, although Matt Prior, James Anyon (both injured) and Michael Yardy (ill) still remain on the sidelines. New signing Oliver Robinson, formerly at Yorkshire, is straight into the squad.
Sussex squad: Ed Joyce (captain), Ben Brown (wicketkeeper), Craig Cachopa, Harry Finch, Matthew Hobden, Matt Machan, Steve Magoffin, Chris Nash, Steffan Piolet, Oliver Robinson, Ajmal Shahzad, Luke Wells, Luke Wright
Weather and Conditions
The notoriously helpful bowling conditions at Chester-le-Street will be further enhanced with the overcast conditions expected across the first couple of days. Rain is also expected during Day Two, and perhaps Day Four should the game go that far, but likely to be nothing more than a passing shower.
Date: 26th – 29th April 2015
Ground: Emirates International Cricket Ground, Durham
Umpires: Peter Hartley & Graham Lloyd
Odds (via SkyBet): Durham 20/23, Sussex 20/21