DURHAM are in real danger of becoming this season’s nearly men after a crushing defeat against Somerset in the semi-finals of the Clydesdale Bank 40 competition.
On the face of it, the hosts’ 39-run victory under the Duckworth-Lewis system at Taunton yesterday doesn’t seem that damning.
But the Dynamos were outplayed and outfought throughout the encounter.
Skipper Dale Benkenstein admitted afterwards that his side had come up well short, but felt that their hectic schedule – Durham have been on the road since last Saturday – may have taken its toll.
He said: “It was a ridiculous schedule.
“Having looked at the guys I think they wanted to be up for it, but I think there was probably only a little bit of petrol in the tank.
“We could have changed things, but the players we brought in would be more or less making their debuts, and you want to stick with the guys who have been winning you games.
“They all wanted to play, but sometimes I think the mind is willing, but the body isn’t.”
The visitors certainly looked at sixes and sevens when their innings got under way.
Opener Mark Stoneman gave his wicket away with a kamikaze run, that saw him perish courtesy of a Chris Jones direct hit.
And Durham were 15-2 shortly afterwards when Gordon Muchall, back in the side for the injured Michael Di Venuto, was out lbw to Steve Kirby for a duck.
Worse followed when Phil Mustard, who looked ready to rebuild the Durham innings, went carelessly pulling Peter Trego straight to Craig Meschede at deep square.
And Paul Collingwood was then caught low down for 13 to leave the visitors floundering on 44-4.
A captain’s innings of 82 from Benkenstein, followed by cameos from Ian Blackwell (41) and Scott Borthwick (32), helped Durham to post 219 all out from 38.5 overs.
While disappointed with his side’s batting, Benkenstein also praised the hosts’ bowling.
“Somerset showed what a good side they are,” he admitted. “They gave us nothing with the ball. The first few overs everything seemed to be going in fast forward and we needed to calm ourselves down a bit.
“But we lost a few too many wickets and got ourselves on the back foot, on what I thought was a very good pitch.”
In reply, Somerset made the most of some loose bowling early on.
Opener Arul Suppiah punished any wayward deliveries as he cruised to an impressive 57 before being stumped by Mustard off the bowling of Gareth Breese.
He was ably supported by Jones (33) and Trego (40no) as rain brought a premature end to the game with the home side on 165-3 off 27 overs – well above the required Duckworth-Lewis rate.
It could be a year of what ifs for Durham – yesterday’s defeat following on from a crushing 55-run defeat at the hands of Hampshire in the T20 quarter-finals last month.
Durham now need results to go their way this week to boost their hopes of winning the County Championship.
They sealed a 208-run victory against Sussex at Hove on Saturday to go top of Division One with 211 points.
Durham do not play in this week’s round of matches, in which close rivals Lancashire and Warwickshire – each with a game in hand – take on Hampshire and Nottinghamshire respectively, but they then have a home game against Worcestershire in the final week of the Championship.
“We have to hope for rain all this week when the other sides are playing,” Benkenstein said.
“We have one more game to play and whatever happens, we will be up for it. It’s our last shot at a trophy this season.”