Royal London Cup - Final Preview
On Saturday, Durham will meet Warwickshire at Lord's to contest the county season’s final piece of silverware, with the latter targeting an unprecedented double and the former looking to cap a startling recent resurgence.
In similar vein to Warwickshire’s march to the Twenty20 title, a stuttered opening to the group stages left Durham with little room for manoeuvre through the final furlongs of the group. To advance, Paul Collingwood’s side strung together three successive victories in virtual must-win contests.
Across all forms of cricket Durham can boast an unbeaten run that stretches over a month. The securing of Championship survival last week and a crushing win last time out against Northamptonshire means the Chester-le-Street county can focus on Saturday’s final without anxieties surrounding the drop.
Warwickshire, riding on the momentum generated by their maiden Twenty20 title, have won four of their last five 50 over contests, that sole defeat coming against Nottinghamshire at the conclusion of the group stages.
Both progressed serenely into the final, with Durham comprehensively outhitting highly fancied Notts whilst Warwickshire showcased too much class for Kent in the last four.
Matching overall run rates of 5.49 indicate there is little to choose between the two sides in relation to batting, however the individual statistic suggest Durham arguably have the edge.
In Jonathan Trott and Varun Chopra Warwickshire can boast two of the competition’s highest five scorers, indicating a reliability of runs should not be an issue. Durham’s highest run scorer - Paul Collingwood - is ranked only seventh, yet in the former England man and Ben Stokes they can boast two players averaging in excess of 55 with a strike rate surplus to 100.
Stokes has proven particularly destructive thus far with a breath-taking 164 the key factor in plotting Notts’ semi-final demise.
Aside from Trott and Chopra, Warwickshire are unable to vaunt another batsman in the leading 30 run- scorers, although the return of Ian Bell will to a large degree alleviate those concerns.
In contrast Durham can claim four, with Mark Stoneman and Phil Mustard also enjoying fruitful campaigns - the former of that pair contributing a critical century in the quarter-final win over Yorkshire.
Whether Warwickshire are able to negotiate Durham’s apparent power supremacy is likely to hinge on Laurie Evans recreating his Twenty20 form as currently he averages a disappointing 28.
Warwickshire’s robust bowling unit sowed the seed for their Twenty20 triumph and they will again represent a difficult proposition in Saturday’s showpiece. Only Adil Rashid has taken more wickets than Jeetan Patel, while the resurgent Boyd Rankin offers Warwickshire an unrivalled option in regards to hostile seam - the former Derbyshire man currently claims an economy rate of a mere 3.93.
The addition of Chris Woakes only further enhances an attack in which weaknesses are at a premium.
While Warwickshire will be buoyed by the return of their bowling spearhead, Durham may well lament the loss of theirs, given John Hastings has departed to participate in the Twenty20 Champions League - with the Australian a fundamental factor in Durham’s revival across all formats.
Varun Aaron will be tasked with filling Hastings’ rather large shoes, whilst in the continued absence of Graham Onions much will be anticipated of Chris Rushworth - who excelled in Durham defending 237 to beat Yorkshire in the last eight and then took 15 wickets in a day to beat Northamptonshire in the County Championship - to lead from the front.
Collingwood will also be equally pivotal with the ball with his ability to take pace off the ball proving a key factor to Durham applying a stranglehold through the middle overs – the captain is able to boast an economy rate of just under four.
In regards to average run rate conceded per innings, Warwickshire have the slight edge with a figure of 5.02 in comparison to Durham’s 5.13
Neither side are lacking in experience, with the availability of England personnel only further vindicating the view that the possibility of freezing in such a show piece scenario should not be an issue.
The experience of negotiating the Twenty20 finals day pressure cooker could questionably afford Warwickshire a pivotal advantage when things reach the crunch stages on Saturday, although Durham’s aptitude in must-win situations thus far means they are unlikely to be overawed by the occasion - the wise head of leader Collingwood will act as an additional equaliser in this regard.
With both sides littered with talent and short of weaknesses, forecasting a winner signifies an arduous challenge with the final outcome likely to be dictated by small margins.
Neither has shown limitations in relation to a specific type of fixture, with Durham in particular showcasing ability in both low scoring and high scoring affairs.
The likes of Trott and Chopra mean Warwickshire are always liable to post a competitive totals and much may hinge on whether their bowlers can strangle Durham’s power hitters - the potential battle between Stokes and Rankin arguably representing the key individual matchup.
In the group stage fixture Warwickshire were unable to nullify Durham’s power, coasting to a target of 265 with 23 balls to spare. The bears will hope that the return of Woakes combined with Hastings’ absence will see that result reversed come late afternoon.
© Cricket World 2014