Durham’s place at the top of the North Group may paint a flattering picture of their performances in this year’s T20 Blast competition: they have played two more matches than any other team in the group, and all but the bottom two sides could overtake them by winning the games they have in hand. Impressive scalps such as beating Yorkshire at home and Lancashire away have been counterbalanced by disappointing defeats to Leicestershire at Grace Road and Birmingham at Chester-le-Street.
Durham have always punched above their weight in county cricket, though: while wide-eyed children may not be queuing past Lumley Castle for John Hastings’ autograph, he is a solid professional with IPL experience and an enviable Twenty20 record. Somerset were made keenly aware of Hastings’ batting ability earlier this week, when he made 28 from 27 and 79 from 68 balls to condemn the West Country side to remain at the foot of the County Championship Division One table. Elsewhere in their ranks, Scott Borthwick might have slipped down the pecking order for an England spinner’s spot, but he’s a canny T20 bowler; Paul Collingwood is always a force with bat or ball in any limited-overs side.
Worcestershire will no doubt provide a stern challenge to Durham’s efforts to hold off the chasing pack. They bowled well in patches against a full-strength Nottinghamshire side in a televised T20, but were beaten at the death of both innings, partly by some fearless hitting from Darren Sammy. Saeed Ajmal may not be as effective or mysterious since remodelling his bowling action, but he can still get flight, drift and turn that could prove dangerous if batsmen don’t take his threat as seriously as before.
In Durham’s last T20 Blast match, John Hastings made 21 off just 12 deliveries and bowled four overs with figures of 1-19. In themselves they may not seem like feats worthy of Wisden, but when you consider that Durham were 118-6 when he arrived at the crease and eventually finished on 163-7, his contribution with the bat can be appreciated in context. His economy rate of 4.75 was the best of the bowlers as Birmingham chased the runs down with five balls to spare- all this whilst England man Ben Stokes bowled three overs with an economy of 14.66. Hastings gave Somerset the long handle to help his side to a key victory in the County Championship, and could well do so again against Worcestershire.
Moeen Ali has enjoyed an impressive return to domestic cricket in the T20 Blast. Released by England so that he could recover his form with the ball in preparation for the Ashes Test in Cardiff next month, he has instead been thumping county bowlers with his bat. His 90 off 50 balls against Northamptonshire was a decisive knock, as their hosts only fell 14 runs short. He also contributed a speedy 36 to the run-chase against Nottinghamshire at New Road and removed the dangerous Brendan Taylor – if the only regular England player in this match can bring his international quality to the party, Durham will have some serious problems on their hands.
Ben Stokes and Mark Wood are both away with England, but otherwise Durham have a full squad. Calum MacLeod will be released for Scotland duty next month’s ICC World T20 Qualifiers, but is available for this fixture.
Worcestershire all-rounder Ross Whiteley, who almost took them to victory in their game against Nottinghamshire with a lightning-quick 36 off 18, was withdrawn from a Second XI Championship match as a precaution, but is available for this game. Spinner Brett D’Oliveira is added to the squad, while Moeen Ali is available after being rested from England’s ODI squad. They boast two overseas players in the form of Pakistani spinner Saeed Ajmal and New Zealand’s Colin Munro.
Durham Jets squad: Mark Stoneman (c), Usman Arshad, Scott Borthwick, Graham Clark, Paul Collingwood, Paul Coughlin, John Hastings, Keaton Jennings, Calum MacLeod, Gordon Muchall, Phil Mustard (wk), Ryan Pringle, Chris Rushworth.
Worcestershire Rapids squad: Daryl Mitchell (c), Saeed Ajmal, Moeen Ali, Ed Barnard, Ben Cox (wk), Brett D’Oliveira, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Joe Leach, Colin Munro, Richard Oliver, Jack Shantry, Ross Whiteley.
Weather and conditions
It’s set to be a cloudy evening with mild temperatures.
Date: 7th-10th June 2015
Ground: Emirates ICG
Umpires: Paul Baldwin & Peter Hartley
Odds (SkyBet): Durham 8/13 Worcestershire 5/4