Vitality County Championship Division One – Match Preview: Durham v Hampshire

Vitality County Championship Division One – Match Preview: Durham v Hampshire

Durham face a stiff test of their Division One credentials in their opener

Newly promoted Durham will have the opportunity to give their Division One credentials a thorough test as they take on a strong Hampshire side in the opening round of Championship fixtures. Hampshire finished third in Division One last season and will be keen to challenge Surrey and Essex for the top spot, but Durham won the Division Two title at a canter and have plenty of players who have tasted international cricket. If the weather plays fair, this should be a tasty encounter.

Hampshire can select from the same group of players as in 2023, with the return of Kyle Abbott and Mohammad Abbas as their overseas picks. The one issue they had with the batting was finding an opening partner for Fletcha Middleton, who himself had a difficult season and this may have been solved by the signing of Ali Orr from Sussex. The 23-year-old scored over 1000 first class runs in 2022, but struggled last summer and will be keen to slot into his new county. The middle order includes the experienced trio of Nick Gubbins, James Vince and Liam Dawson who scored 2816 championship runs between them last summer. Hampshire have not been away pre season, but have had friendlies against Middlesex, Worcestershire and Sussex, in which most of the batters have had time in the middle, Orr scoring a half century against the Pears. With Abbott and Abbas leading the attack and Ian Holland providing the fourth seamer option, Hampshire have the luxury of filling the final bowling slot from one of James Fuller, Keith Barker or Brad Wheal. They then have Dawson for some spin if needed. Other counties should be so lucky!

Durham have been boosted by Ben Stoke’s announcement that he will not be playing in the T20 World Cup, focussing on getting fit to bowl in the upcoming Tests by playing Championship cricket. However, it is not clear when his first game will be. Durham have also had the benefit of three weeks in Zimbabwe where they played two three-day fixtures against Zimbabwe A, winning both matches, before competing in the Zimbabwe domestic T20 tournament. They won the final, bowling out Mashonaland Eagles for just 16.

Durham’s squad has been strengthened with the recruitment of Colin Ackerman and Callum Parkinson from Leicestershire, with no significant departures. David Bedingham remains as an overseas player and he has been joined by Scott Boland to bolster the seam options. He will provide a strong new ball attack alongside Matty Potts and Ben Raine. Brydon Carse was involved with the England Lions in their tour of India alongside Potts and they can match Hampshire in that department, with Paul Coughlin and Bas de Leede also available.

Durham have last year’s leading Championship run scorer Alex Lees at the top of the order alongside Scotland international Michael Jones. Jones was short of runs in Zimbabwe and missed a couple of the warm up games with injury. Captain Scott Borthwick was also sidelined, but they were both back for the game against Yorkshire. Bedingham, Ackerman and Ollie Robinson make up a strong middle order and Durham will be hoping that Bedingham can put the disappointment of being omitted from the recently announced South African central contracts behind him. Ackerman has settled in with his new county, scoring a 100 off just 96 balls against Durham UCCE. However, in their latest game against Yorkshire they were 235/9 against an attack without Matthew Fisher or Ben Coad, Carse (76) the only player to make a significant score. He was less successful with the ball, going for 63 from his eight overs.

Hampshire have the pedigree, but these look two evenly matched sides and if the weather behaves itself, there should be plenty of good cricket.

Key players:

Runs could be at a premium in the early season fixtures given the recent weather, but in Alex Lees Durham have someone well equipped to battle it out. It is 18 months since the last of his 10 Test appearances, but he remains one of the country’s top batters, averaging 70.89 and 59.18 in the last two years’ Championships. A good start will undoubtedly help settle nerves in the Durham batting camp.

30-year-old, left hand batter Nick Gubbins has had an up and down career, never quite able to cement a place at the international level, but there is still time. He made his first class debut for Middlesex aged 19 and played a key role in their winning the Championship title in 2016, hitting 1,409 runs at 61.26. He moved on to England Lions, but failed to make his mark and his form deteriorated, as Middlesex were relegated the following season. In mid-2021 he went on loan to Hampshire and made a permanent move the following year. Since then he has been churning out the runs, making 969 at 46.14 last summer, as well as 404 runs at 44.88 in the One Day cup, captaining the side to the final.

Team News:

For Durham, Jones, Borthwick and Graham Clark have recovered from minor injuries while Brandon Glover continues his rehabilitation after recent shoulder surgery.

Durham squad (probable): Scott Borthwick (c), Colin Ackerman, David Bedingham, Scott Boland, Jonathan Bushnell, Brydon Carse, Paul Coughlin, Bas de Leede, Michael Jones, Alex Lees, Matty Potts, Ben Raine, Ollie Robinson (wk)

Hampshire appear to have a full squad to select from following the arrival of Mohammad Abbas.

Hampshire squad (probable): James Vince (c), Mohammad Abbas, Kyle Abbott, Keith Barker, Ben Brown (wk), Liam Dawson, James Fuller, Nick Gubbins, Ian Holland, Fletcha Middleton, Ali Orr, Tom Prest, Brad Wheal

Weather and Conditions:

The current forecast is for rain during the first two days, clearing as the match progresses.

Durham had no problem amassing batting points last summer and the Chester-le-Street pitches did not seem to have the demons of previous seasons. However the damp conditions will be expected to give the bowlers some assistance.

Date: 5th April 2024

Time: 11:00

Ground: Riverside Ground, Chester-le-Street

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