(Photo: Sarah Ansell)
By Mark Pennell
Both teams were forced into selectorial changes and neither side played to their best, but for the players involved and the supporters who witnessed the game’s dramatic finish this draw will live long in the memory.
The pre-match battlelines could not have been more distinct. Second-placed Kent were unbeaten, promotion chasing and buoyed by the signing of Yasir Shah, the world’s No1 ranked wrist spinner.
Their visitors, sitting eight places below them propping up the table and a massive 121 points adrift, were Durham, still in negative equity in terms of the ECB’s draconian close-season points sanction and beset by injuries.
They were forced to hand teenage academy graduate Matthew Potts his debut as well as picking a barely-fit Chris Rushworth in an attack already hampered by the loss of Graham Onions, Mark Wood, Ben Stokes, Paul Coughlin and Brydon Carse.
Though their results are not proving as much, Paul Collingwood’s side are seemingly enjoying their status as the game’s underdogs. They took to the field in each session with a point to prove and, the reality was they won almost every session barring the final half an hour.
On a gripping last afternoon, Collingwood played ringmaster, setting innovative fields and calling tactical bowling changes, four of which paid immediate dividends with first-over dismissals.
But then Rushworth, his attack spearhead limped off with a stiff back after giving his all during a stint of 25-7-62-3. Potts came on down the Canterbury slope to replace him and came up stumps by trapping Matt Coles, Kent’s No9, lbw for his maiden first-class victim.
Having bossed proceedings from day one, Collingwood now had 46 balls in which to take Kent’s 10th wicket and open his side’s Division Two win account. All that stood in their way were two brand new teammates in Yasir, a man with a first-class average of 16, and Mitch Claydon – the former Durham all-seamer who bats a No11 for a reason; his average is 15.
With almost a foot separating their heights, Kent’s little and large somehow conspired to see off all that Collingwood could throw at them.
Neither man seemed to know when to run or when to farm the strike until the penultimate over when Claydon took the responsibility to see off Barry McCarthy, the Dubliner who had bagged a career-best six for 63 in Kent’s first innings.
Claydon kept out one stunning yorker, bludgeoned two more to the ropes and, with his job done, went down the pitch to tell Yasir it was his job to play out the final six deliveries.
Again, Collingwood made changes, replacing off-spinner Ryan Pringle to hand the ball to rookie Potts for the last over. Bowling to a ring field, Potts strayed once, allowing Yasir to cudgel his last four.
The sides rightly shook hands on the status quo; the captains especially as this had been their game. Sam Northeast had matched Collingwood’s first innings century and then, after Collingwood declared with a lead of 484 and with his own score on 51, again called his bluff with a stoical 72 that kept Durham at bay for 229 minutes on the final day.
Veteran Darren Stevens also chipped in with his fifth five-wicket return of the summer, but all 22 players were heroes.