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Cricket news - Chris Rushworth - Durham's true-blue cricketer
"The old saying goes that you never know love, until you've lost it," says Durham fast-bowler Chris Rushworth.
This was not an awkward ode to a long lost girlfriend but rather Rushworth describing his release from Durham in 2006 at the age of 21. Eleven years and more than 600 professional wickets later, it now seems remarkable he was let go in the first place. But stiff competition from a group of bowlers that would take Durham to the Championship title in 2008 and 2009 meant the club had no place for him then.
It was a hugely difficult period in Rushworth's life. He spent the time away from the game working a number of jobs, answering phones in a call centre, going door to door selling satellite TV. He hated every moment of it.
It took him about a year for the penny to drop: to realise how much he missed the game. He kept playing club cricket and had trials with a couple of counties which came to nothing. But Durham was where he had started, as a product of their academy, and where he desperately wanted to play. He finally got himself a trial in the winter of 2009, impressed enough to get a one-year contract, and has never looked back.
"I didn't know how much I loved the game and how much I wanted to be a cricketer until it was taken away from us," he says in his north-east accent. "Now, to be sat here with a second chance, I'm grabbing every single opportunity I get."
There have been few bowlers in the county game who have been as consistent as Rushworth has since 2012, the season he really made his mark in red-ball cricket with 38 first-class wickets at 16. He has taken more than 50 first-class scalps four times in the six seasons since then and 47 in 2017. He won the Championship with Durham in 2013 and the one-day cup the season after and in 2015, he was named PCA Player of the Year.
He might not have the pace of others but few can match his skill or his stubbornness. He refuses to yield to batsmen looking for easy pickings, constantly probing their techniques on or around off-stump with a hint of movement here and there, the human equivalent to a bowling machine feeding the same ball over and over. While it is true that the surfaces at Chester-le-Street are generally bowler friendly, Rushworth is no one-trick pony, either. He takes wickets wherever he goes.
"He is always at you as a batsman," says Durham batsman Will Smith, Rushworth's captain in 2013. "I can't remember the last time when facing him in the nets thinking I was going to be a leave ball when it left his hand. His control of line and length, irrespective of swing or seam movement, is impeccable. He seems to keep improving each year, too."
"I'm immensely proud to have come back and be where I am now, having the amount of wickets I've taken," Rushworth says. "It's something I never thought was going to happen. I feel very privileged to have been given a second chance and it's pleasing to know that I've taken it."
Arguably, an England call should have come, too. In 2015, Rushworth took 83 Championship wickets in the top flight, an immense achievement but one that went unrewarded with a call-up. Given England have picked a number of fast-bowlers who operate around the 80mph mark, as Rushworth does, a lack of pace can't be it. Perhaps the presence of James Anderson, a similar type of bowler, has counted against the Durham man but there haven't been too many unluckier in county cricket. He hasn't even had a Lions call-up.
"It's not something I want to dwell on too much but those two or three years around 2015, I was at the peak of my game," he says. "To be close to getting picked, it's frustrating [not to have been]. But at the same time, to have those fantastic years at Durham is something I never thought was going to happen. To have those and to prove that I was good enough is very pleasing.
"It's a tricky one. Maybe my bowling and my age doesn't fit their criteria? It is disappointing but England are in a strong position."
Instead, Rushworth has toiled away for Durham, experiencing some almighty highs. The 2013 Championship win, the third in five years for the club, and the one-day trophy confirmed the club's arrival at the top of the domestic tree was no fluke. They were one of the big boys, a club with a conveyor belt of homegrown players winning trophies and getting higher honours. From that 2013 side, Ben Stokes, Mark Wood, Scott Borthwick, Mark Stoneman and Keaton Jennings have all gone on to represent England.
But the 32 year-old has also lived through the hard times which have befallen the club since their forced relegation to the second division of the Championship by the ECB at the end of the 2016 season. Financial issues necessitated a bail-out from the governing body and as a deterrent to other counties who might be close to dropping the financial ball, strong penalties were imposed on Durham. They were made an example of and many - both inside the club and out - felt it harsh.
A rash of players left either that winter or the year after including Stoneman, Borthwick and Jennings. It ripped the heart out of a team which was winning trophies at the same time as having more room for growth. Who knows what they could have achieved.
Players such as Rushworth had to make a choice: stick by the club at the potential cost to their own personal ambitions or look for opportunities elsewhere. There were suitors but for Rushworth, the desire to pay back the faith Durham had shown when signing him in 2010 was too much to resist. "I've never been in the last year of my contract so leaving was never really an option I guess and it wasn't something I ever explored too much to be honest," he says.
"Durham had given me a second chance and all I wanted to do is get us back to the first division. Hopefully, I'd like to see out the rest of my career here. It's somewhere I love playing and somewhere I love living and the club holds a very special place for me."
The last two seasons have understandably been a struggle as a young, inexperienced group of players tried to forge their own path under the wise old head of Paul Collingwood who retired at the end of last season. And there were signs last year that things are finally on the mend. They unexpectedly reached the quarter-finals of the Vitality T20 Blast and pulled off two remarkable Championship victories, one after following on against Leicestershire and then, a month later against Derbyshire, having been bowled out for 98 in their first innings.
Those results were "incredible" and unsurprisingly Rushworth made telling contributions in each. At home against Leicestershire, with Durham defending 147 after following on, he took three of the first four wickets to fall before the visitors reached 50, putting the wind up them from which they never recovered. Against Derbyshire, he took 5-47 as Durham bowled their opponents out 95 runs short of their fourth innings target.
"In the past when we have been reasonably successful, we found ways to win in tricky situations," Rushworth says. "That was one of our trademarks. To never give up until the game has finished. The Leicester game last year, we were so far behind after two days and then to win the game from following-on showed that character of old. Hopefully, these young lads have got that same grit and determination as previous teams.
"What it does show is that the young lads do have character, do have mental strength. Ultimately, they have the talent and the capability to do it."
There is still a long way to go, mind. Durham finished eighth in Division Two last year and bottom of their one-day group with a lack of runs a real issue. The signing of Australian opener Cameron Bancroft - controversially made captain - and Alex Lees from Yorkshire should help with that while all-rounder Ben Raine's arrival from Leicestershire is another important addition. There are some fresh voices in charge too with former New Zealand all-rounder James Franklin appointed as head coach and Australian Marcus North taking over as Director of Cricket.
"They've brought a whole new way of thinking, a different way of training," says Rushworth. "It's nice for everyone to hear new voices, someone else giving you new ideas on how to take your game forward. For a relatively inexperienced group of players now, it's nice to have these fresh opinions. At the same time, having been here a long time, I want those Durham values of old to remain throughout."
More than anything, there's a sense now that the club want to move on from what happened in 2016. "We've got to forget about it," Rushworth says. "Members and supporters still feel angry and aggrieved but if you want to move forward as a club then you have to forget about it because if you start dwelling on things for too long you get stuck there. Nobody wants that. We've had a rebrand. Everything has changed. Everything that has been and gone in the past, in my eyes, has to be forgotten about, especially on the field. We need to concentrate on winning games and trophies.
"There's a lot more excitement around than previous. Everything that has happened the last few years, it's time to move forward."
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