Worcestershire 117 for 7 beat Durham 114 for 6 by three runs
Worcestershire, the defending T20 champions, will believe that the trophy is within their grasp once more after a remarkable defence of a paltry total to stave off Durham by three runs at Emirates Riverside.
When Durham reached 79 for 0 midway through the 12th over, a mere 39 runs short of victory, that they would overhaul Worcestershire’s 117 for 7 seemed a formality even allowing for a churlish pitch which not for the first time in these parts seemed to reconfigure Twenty20 as it might have been invented in an age of post-war rationing.
But remarkably the six fours and two sixes struck by Durham’s openers, D’Arcy Short and Scott Steel, proved to be their only boundaries in the entire innings as they dried up so pitifully against a resourceful Worcestershire attack that even aggressive running appeared to be beyond them.
Short played effortlessly on a surface which was a conundrum for most others. He found the measure of Dillon Pennington, who bowled too full for such a surface, and also pulled a half-tracker from Ed Barnard into the Don Robson Pavilion. But Barnard bowled Steel for 31, then Daryl Mitchell struck in successive deliveries to dismiss Graham Clark and Short, who was caught on the boundary for 42 from 40 balls.
At once, inertia fell upon Durham’s batsmen. Peter Handscomb succumbed to the pressure slicing a delivery from Pat Brown straight up to allow Wayne Parnell to take a simple catch. Parnell then delivered in his next over as Jack Burnham failed to clear deepish mid-on. Alex Lees, determined not to sell his wicket cheaply, managed little trading at all.
Lees knew it had been a mess. “It’s bitterly disappointing to lose that. Regardless of the wicket, 117 is a total we should be able to chase,” he said.
Durham needed nine off the last over, delivered by last season’s breakout bowler Brown, but Stuart Poynter holed out to long-on to leave Durham six short with two balls remaining. It proved to be the only shot of any gusto in the over as Durham ground to a halt.
This despite having moments of luck which might have helped them to victory, such as the leading edge that fell safely into the offside with 21 needed off 21 to get Burnham off the mark, or the edge to third man which gave Poynter his first runs as Tom Fell lost the ball in the floodlights.
Short had remarked “we’ll see” when he was told on his arrival in the North East that he might have to temper the explosive batting style that has made him such a star in the Big Bash. His performances have stood up to the test – he is averaging 48 with a strike rate of 144. Steel and Handscomb are also having respectable seasons but the rest does not bear much examination.
The inadequacy of Yorkshire and vulnerability of Birmingham have ensured that the supposed Big Four in the North Group are once again having things far from their own way in the Blast. Durham had the chance to take advantage as Short and Steel provided an ideal platform, only for Worcestershire to escape with a victory that moved them into second place in the table.
Worcestershire had trounced Durham by nine wickets earlier in the season, but they will be prouder of the way they fashioned victory on a funereal surface. For a salutary reminder that life is a struggle try Chester-le-Street on a Vitality Blast night. There are no liberties taken here. The ball seems made of lead, the pitch of porridge and any talk of bringing the boundaries in would bring strange looks. Every run is hard earned.
Persistent rain has undermined the Blast in recent weeks, which is a dreadful shame coming so soon after the fillip brought about England’s World Cup win, but even allowing for the difficulties that brings the groundstaff, the Riverside certainly hosts a peculiar style of T20, with runs at a premium.
Two years ago, Durham conceded 106 in the first six-over powerplay to Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, a ground where runs are ten a penny. Both sides huffed and puffed to pass that in a single innings.
The tone was set from the second ball when Martin Guptill (who survived a return catch, first ball) struck the next delivery from Liam Trevaskis to short extra cover. Callum Ferguson twice made room to cut boundaries, but dragged on third time of asking.
Only seven fours and two sixes later, Worcestershire’s innings ground to a halt at 117 for 7, and with better boundary outriding in the closing overs they would not have got that. Matty Potts deserved better reward for a career-best 3 for 22.
But unlike Durham, Worcestershire kept at it – Ross Whiteley scrambled 24 at a run a ball late on – and it proved to be enough.