English County Cricket: Durham and Gloucestershire

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Ben Roberts of Balance Sports and World Cricket Watch continues his English County Cricket profiles before the season kicks off.

Durham

While three counties have spent nigh on 100 seasons of County Championship cricket seeking their very first championship, Durham in only 19 have collected two. Durham’s two championships came consecutively in 2008 and 2009 with a solid squad of cricketers. In recent years this solid squad of cricketers has been built around Durham developed test representatives Steve Harmison, Graham Onions, and Paul Collingwood.

After a three year process of application and assessment to the then Test & County Cricket Board, Durham was awarded first-class status and entered the championship for the 1992 season. The club itself however was formed in 1882 and plied its trade in the minor counties competition collecting a strong record of performance through until the 1991 season. Probably its most famous performance as a minor county came in 1973.

The introduction of limited over cricket to the English summer meant that in a cup competition, the Sunday League, minor counties were given the chance to compete with first-class counties. The matches were awarded full ‘List A’ status. In 1973 Durham became the first minor county to record a victory against a first-class county in the history of ‘List A’ matches when they defeated fellow north-easterners Yorkshire.

Despite success in recent years, the first 13 seasons of first-class cricket were not successful. In this earlier period Durham had recruited heavily to try and bolster its stock of local talent, and most of these recruits were players in the twilight of their careers and past their best. This included Ian Botham and Wayne Larkins – both test players, and in Botham’s case, an international champion. But it could be argued that such a focus on recruiting players stunted the development of the club.

In 2004 the county bottomed out, finishing last in Division 2. However, Durham bounced back in 2005, gaining promotion under the captaincy of Michael Hussey. As well as Hussey, the list of Australians who have represented the county reads like a list of usual suspects: Dean Jones, Martin Love, Simon Katich along with Hussey have all been regular members of one county or another during their careers.

Two Tasmanians are notable representatives of Durham in its short history. At the conclusion of his test career David Boon continued to play first-class cricket for Tasmania as well as captaining Durham for the 1997 through to 1999 seasons.

In the past four seasons fellow Tasmanian Michael Di Venuto has played for Durham. Di Venuto, who is still only 37 despite a long first-class career, represented Australia in One Day Internationals back in 1997. During a 2010 season where Durham’s form fell away after two consecutive championships, Di Venuto was the county’s leading batsman and in the final match scored 129 against Somerset to deny them the title.

Gloucestershire

The county that produced the most famous name in English cricket, is also one of the counties that remains without a championship. Integral to the club’s formation around 1870 was Dr Henry Grace. Grace built a team that would become formidable in the pre championship days.

This formidable team was built around Dr Grace’s three sons, EM, Fred, and the most famous of all Dr WG Grace. WG played for Gloucestershire for 30 seasons, his career ultimately producing almost 55,000 first-class runs (22,000 for Gloucestershire) and 2,900 first-class wickets (1,339 for Gloucestershire). Dr Grace’s career at Gloucestershire, although long, still finished early due to a disagreement between WG as captain and the committee, driving him to leave for London County. Perhaps this divorce of player and county cursed Gloucestershire to still be waiting 111 years later for their first championship, having been runner-up 6 times.

Billy Midwinter played test cricket for both Australia and England in the 1880s and was also part of the formidable Gloucestershire team along with the three Grace brothers. South African Mike Proctor, restricted to a career devoid of test cricket in the 1970s and 1980s, was ferocious for the county with ball and lower order batting. Proctor also went onto captain the club for his final years.

Walter Hammond is the county’s highest run scorer with 33,000. His career occurred mostly between the wars and in combination with bowlers Tom Parker and Charles Goddard, 3,100 and 2,800 wickets respectively, this was the most consistent period of the club’s up and down history.

In recent times some limited-over success has come the way of Gloucestershire, however they still are seemingly a distance from achieving that inaugural county championship. Very few Gloucestershire players have been selected for England duties in the past 20 years. The last consistent performer for the national side was wicket-keeper Jack Russell who retired from national duties in the early 1990s.


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