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15th October 2009

Will Smith – All Out Cricket Diary

Day one of the crucial Championship fixture against Nottinghamshire at the Riverside, and we need 11 points from this game to win the title, apparently. I claim not to know this fact, as I have to try and maintain the focus of winning each game irrespective of the bigger picture, despite that for about two months now I have been studying the table, working out every possible permutation. Until very recently we still had a mathematical chance of being relegated….
We win the toss and bat – 79.3 overs later we are 314-0. I have the most pleasurable pad rash ever experienced. Sadly our sensational opening partnership between Michael Di Venuto and Kyle Coetzer is cut short one run shy of equalling the all-time record partnership for Durham in all cricket when Kyle is unluckily run out. As soon as I get to the crease I inform the umpire responsible, Richard Illingworth, and explain that it is not too late to reverse his decision, despite him getting it absolutely right, I might add.  My plea falls on deaf ears. Umpires are sticklers for the laws, apparently! We end the day on 377-1. A respectable start…

It is fair to say that day two is another ‘respectable’ day. A score of 648-5 declared, four centurions (Coetzer, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dale Benkenstein and a regal 219 from Diva,) a record Durham first-class team total, the first time there has been four centurions in an innings for Durham, and I’m sure many more records along the way. Now we have to try and bowl out Notts twice, on a good surface. At the close they are 65-2, and there is plenty more hard work ahead.

To secure the 11 points that we needed at the start of the game, assuming we went on to draw the game or better, it would mean taking six wickets in Notts’ first innings. Being two down overnight, it would take something remarkable for that moment not to be realized at some point today. As it happened it came midway through the afternoon session, when Mark Davies had Ali Brown caught by the Colonel (Phil Mustard). It was a surreal moment. As the customary huddle congregated there were a few handshakes, a few pats on the back, but more a general feel of wanting to finish the game off. Lesser teams may relax at this point and drift towards the end of the game. It is great testament to this group of players that they knew there was a game to be won, and an immense amount of professional pride is evident. We are never happy just playing for bonus points, meandering through meaningless passages of play, or not playing tough cricket. Some teams may, we don’t. We don’t expect favours, nor do we give them out. It is an absolute pleasure to know that mentality is in-built.
Thanks to 6-85 from Liam Plunkett and 4-87 from Mark Davies, Notts’ first innings was ‘Smoggied’ and we are able to enforce the follow-on. At the close of day three they are 52-2.

Both days three and four of this game saw free admission for all – a masterstroke from the club. The day dawned bright and sunny again, and there was a real air of expectation as the crowd grew throughout the day. At its highest the attendance was nigh on 5,000 – it was like being at an international game. Every wicket was met with warm appreciation, and noteworthy moments for both teams were met with genuine admiration. What a refreshing environment to play cricket in, and is why the north-east is, and always will be, such a fantastic place to play and watch sport.
At tea, Notts were eight down and still 60 runs behind. Two balls and we would win the Championship in front of a packed home crowd, under sunny blue skies. Harmy came to me and informed me that he would be bowling after tea, I duly obliged, though I don’t think I had a choice in the matter! First he induced a nick from Luke Fletcher to third slip, and then after a number of overs toying with last pair Mark Ealham and Charlie Shreck, with the crowd roaring him in each ball, he finally clipped the top of Ealy’s off stump and ran off in celebration.  Not many moments in cricket have raised the hairs on the back of my neck so. It is forever etched in my memory.
The next few hours are something of a blur – lifting the trophy, accepting well wishes, signing autographs and wiping champagne from my eyes. Not until we reach the sanctity of the changing room, with families around us and the chief exec endlessly popping bottles of Moët, does the moment even approach reality.
Geoff Cook and his good wife Judith extend their exceptional hospitality that evening and celebrations will remain sacred to those involved, except for bowling coach Alan Walker’s now famous rendition of The Proclaimers hit song ‘Im gonna be (500 miles)’. It is a classic, and one which I would love to see repeated many times in what is now a time-honoured tradition!

What better way to spend the day after winning the Championship than playing a Pro40… live on Sky Sports… with a massive hangover… tired and elated. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think the cricket gods had decreed that we would win this game all along, but thanks to some late bludgeoning from Luke Fletcher it is taken the match down to the very end, with six needed to win from Will Gidman’s last ball. Giddo ends a good day by conceding only a single off it, having started in equally good fashion by cooking a much needed fry-up!
I retire to bed a few hours later, very happy, absolutely knackered, soon to dream of champagne, fry-ups and the sight of Alan Walker singing…