On paper, Durham have made positive steps with the red ball, and some impressive bounds with the white one. Cricket, though, is a game played on the turf and in the heart, and it is highly likely that Durham fans will feel a little heartsore when they return to the Emirates ICG in Chester-le-Street next season.
In the County Championship, Durham finished one place higher than last season with 32 more points. When you take into account the 48-run penalty they were given by the ECB last season, though, they in fact had a worse year on the pitch despite sealing more wins than in 2017.
Largely, the season was characterised by lacklustre batting, and a bowling unit sorely deprived of its figurehead in the shape of Graham Onions, who will be returning to play Championship cricket at the Riverside next season as a visitor when he turns out for the newly relegated Lancashire.
Chris Rushworth was still highly effective from his end, but the lack of high-quality support from the other end showed as, time and again, sides were able to get on top of the bowling and blunt Durham’s hopes of a quick revival after a painful few years.
The innings win against Glamorgan sounds more impressive than perhaps it was, but the real highlights of the season, from both a positive and negative perspective, came in their fixtures against Leicestershire.
At the Riverside, despite being asked to follow on with a huge 256-run deficit, a superb team performance in the second innings left the visitors with a tricky 148 to chase, and they fell well short thanks to a brilliant 7-32 from James Weighell.
In the return fixture, however, Leicestershire had their revenge, demolishing Durham for 61 and 66 to win by an innings and 194 runs despite only posting 321 in their first outing. Only three of Durham’s batsmen reached double figures in either innings, and none of them reached 20. It was a humiliating experience that signalled the end of Paul Collingwood’s career.
The only other reason for this year to stick in the memories of the Durham faithful is the farewell of Collingwood. To say he has been synonymous with Durham cricket for decades is a woeful understatement, and while he has been an asset on the pitch for many years since his retirement from international cricket, at 42 he could no longer hold the team together in all three departments, as he has done in the not-too-distant past.
Collingwood’s retirement leaves only Marcus Trescothick and Ian Bell remaining in the professional game from England’s 2005 Ashes triumph, and while the other two men are still churning out useful runs, neither of them has had to carry a team in quite the way Collingwood has.
Even though Collingwood’s England record is highly impressive, his three County Championship titles will shine just as brightly as the World T20 winner’s medal and the Ashes urns he has won for his country.
After so many age-defying feats even in recent seasons, though, this year the grind seemed to bog Collingwood down. His only half-century came in the Vitality Blast, and for arguably England’s most useful ODI player before the current generation, his average of six with the bat and 124 with the ball in the 50-over tournament will rankle.
The fact that Collingwood’s only moderate success came in the Twenty20, though, is a fitting microcosm of Durham’s season. After a dismal 2017 campaign, they secured a home quarter-final with some brilliant performances from Stokes and Latham, supported by Imran Tahir’s efforts with the ball. The wheels came off in the quarter-final against Sussex, though, when the Durham line-up succumbed to the southerners’ wily spin attack, and Laurie Evans took the visitors through to the semis with an unbeaten 63.
The consolation of the quarter-final marked a welcome relief in limited-overs cricket, after they had registered just two wins in an eminently forgettable Royal London One-Day Cup.
SSCC: 7th, Division Two
T20 Blast: Quarter-Final
RLODC: Group Stage – 9th, North Group
SSCC: Cameron Steel, 638 runs
T20 Blast: Tom Latham, 470 runs
RLODC: Michael Richardson, 392 runs
SSCC: Chris Rushworth, 60 wickets
T20 Blast: Nathan Rimmington, 22 wickets
RLODC: Chris Rushworth, Nathan Rimmington, Matt Dixon, 9 wickets each
Player of the Season
Chris Rushworth is the only major component of Durham’s 2013 Championship-winning side who remains on the books at the club, and he is still one of the smoothest cogs in the machine at 32. His movement and accuracy in helpful conditions, as well as an unjustified assumption outside the club that he couldn’t thrive at other clubs or in the international arena, have helped Durham retain his services.
Leading the attack in the absence of Onions (to call him Lancashire’s sticks in the throat) has not been an issue for him personally, but the fact that his 60 wickets at 20 puts him well ahead of his colleagues is going to be another issue for the club.
James Weighell may not be the youngest of the breakthrough players in Deep Extra Cover’s season reviews, and he only played three County Championship matches, but he emerges from the 2018 season as one of the players who could lead Durham back from the brink in the coming years. He was instrumental in the magnificent home win against Leicestershire, and with overall batting and bowling averages at 29, he is a handy cricketer who could support the club’s growth in all areas of the game.
Could have done better
There are quite a few candidates. Only Weighell and overseas opener Tom Latham averaged over 30 and played more than one game, so all of the batting unit will have some improvements to make for next season. The standout, though, is unfortunately Paul Collingwood. One duck every five innings and no fifties is an appalling return for a batsman so reliable that the letters required for the word ‘stalwart’ have all but disappeared from the keyboards of the journalists who have covered his long career.
Need to work on
It would feel glib to just say ‘The Batting’, but… the Batting. It is not entirely the club’s fault – their top order has been gutted by other clubs in recent years with Surrey signing Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick and Lancashire calling for Keaton Jennings, but it really is the main factor that is letting Durham down. The bowling is in better shape, but they cannot afford to get complacent about that, either. Oh – and their best fielder is 42. And he has just retired.
It is an uncomfortable fact how much of Durham’s future success rests on the shoulders of a crop of batsmen who were young and promising four years ago, but have since lost their way a little. If Lees and Steel can form a solid opening partnership and see off the new ball on frosty northern mornings in April, a Riverside Renaissance is not wholly inconceivable.
Not a dumpster fire by any means, but a largely forgettable season which will only go down in the annals for being Collingwood’s last and for the extraordinary pair of matches against Leicestershire.