Not having a Blast… 

The week that wasn’t for Durham.  Less hectic than the previous fortnight but also less productive. Despite the continued presence of Ben Stokes, they could muster but a pair of Blast defeats, denting their hopes of a top-two North Group finish.

On Wednesday they journeyed to Northants only to be put to the sword by lesser known of the Curran trio. Cheered on – via iPad – by Sam and Tom from the confines of the England bubble, brother Ben smoked 62 from just 33 deliveries to set up a 30-run triumph.

Chasing 174 to claim the points, Durham slipped to 11 for 4 inside the third over. David Bedingham (4), Cameron Bancroft (5) and Stokes (0) for once failed to live up to their reputations, while Claudio Cacapa was hauled off 20 minutes in.

This season’s crazy fixture list means redemption – or at least a shot at it – is never far away. And 48-hours on, Foxes rolled into Chester-Le-Street. Having reached 115-4 in the 16th over – Sean Dickson (35 off 29) and Ned Eckersley (20 off 13) both well set for a firework finish – the rain came. The Foxes knocked off their revised target comfortably.

Before that, Afghanistan quick Naveen-ul-Haq had grabbed 2 for 14 to reclaim his spot as the tournament’s leading wicket-taker. Not bad for someone who did not pick up a cricket ball until he was nearly a teenager.

Naveen’s story cannot fail to raise a smile. The 21-year-old is one of a host of talented cricketers emerging from a war-torn nation rapidly stamping its mark on the international scene.  With a trio of additional representations, it is making an impression on the Blast too; veteran Mohammad Nabi is at Northants, while Qais Ahmad and Mujeeb Ur Rahman turn out for Kent and Middlesex respectively.

Those losses though are far from terminal, Durham remaining in fourth spot with three group games remaining. Were proceedings to end now, they would qualify for the quarter-finals. Their lead over Lancashire in sixth is a solitary point, and they head to Old Trafford in the penultimate round. Birmingham Bears in fifth trail on run-rate alone.

Red-ball returns  

Before Durham’s Blast fate is determined, there is proper cricket to be played. The season’s opening months have seen separate blocks of red and white-ball action, but over the next fortnight, the players must juggle both formats.

Not that Durham will mind: despite currently lying fourth in Group One, their chances of making the County Championship’s top division when the reshuffle happens are high.

By way of reminder, the top two in each of the three groups go through to fight for the title come September. Today Scott Borthwick takes his team to table-toppers Warwickshire. They then host fellow high-flyers Nottinghamshire in seven days’ time.

Win both, or even achieve positive results, and they will succeed in their aim.  Stokes is set to make his first County Championship appearance since 2018, while Chris Rushworth – the competitions leading wicket-taker with 40 – will return fresh from having sat out of the T20s. Whether a period of self-isolation will impact his fitness, remains to be seen.

Wood watch…  

Earlier in the week, Chester-Le-Street played host to a damp squib of an England game. Sri Lanka could not be further from their hey-day, and were royally thumped in the recent T20 series.

Their cause was harmed further when a trio of stars – Kusal Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka – were sent into quarantine having been sighted in Durham town square late last Sunday evening.

Despite strict orders not to leave their hotel, the allure of a night in Loveshack proved too much. If rumours are to be believed, the price will be hefty: a 12-month ban and national disgrace. Seems a little OTT.

On his home ground, Mark Wood bowled seven wicketless overs for just 19 runs as Sr Lanka mustered only 185.  With England kicking off against Germany at 5pm, the nation’s cricketers did their best to get the job done early. In the end, punters missed only the first half-hour, which was perhaps no bad thing.

Making it Raine  

On Friday, Ben Raine was rewarded for his fine Blast form, news breaking that the Northern Superchargers had picked him up as Wildcard ahead of the inaugural Hundred competition.

A T20 ever-present this summer, Raine has picked up 9 wickets in 10 games, conceding runs at less than eight-an-over. He will join clubmates Stokes and Brydon Carse in heading to Headingley, while Wood will turn out for London Spirit at Lord’s.

There is neither the room, nor the inclination, to go into the Hundred in any detail here. That will be done to death over the next few months – and beyond – anyway.

It can be distilled into this though. Yes, the cricket will be high quality, and for the players it is a chance to test themselves at a level unarguably above the county game.  But ask yourself, having just become world champions in the 50 over stuff, what is the logic in relegating that same format to a hybrid 2nd XI competition? And what does it say about the ECB’s commitment to retaining 18 counties?

SAM DALLING