Durston leads by example
Those Unicorns players seeking inspiration ahead of the Clydesdale Bank 40 campaign need look no further than Wes Durston.
This time last year Durston was not long back from a skiing trip in Switzerland, having spent the winter coaching after his release by Somerset had seemingly signalled the end of his playing career.
The Unicorns provided him with what he knew was his one and only shot at redemption. Named in the inaugural squad for the revamped CB40 competition, he began the 2010 season propping up the bar in the last-chance saloon.
A sensational 117 off only 68 balls against Sussex barely a month later won him a trial at Derbyshire, and a similarly explosive 111 off 59 for Derbyshire against Nottinghamshire in the Friends Provident t20 helped convince them he was worth a contract until the end of the 2012 campaign.
There is no hint of exaggeration from Durston when he describes the first of those hundreds as “an hour that changed my life”.
“I faced 60 balls in an hour and I got a two-and-a-half-year contract,” he told ecb.co.uk. “It has given me a new lease of life.
“The Unicorns were absolutely perfect for me. It was a chance of playing at that level, knowing that if I did play well I would be in the shop window for counties.
“Coaches might not be at the games, but they would see the scores. That was enough for me.
“I’ve got a lot to thank the Unicorns for. Without them, almost certainly I wouldn’t be sat here now.”
Durston recalls the details of that pivotal day at Arundel with unsurprising fondness - it still brings a smile to his face almost 12 months down the line - and also reveals Derbyshire team-mate Steffan Jones’ unwitting role in what became one of the games of the season.
“We spent what seemed like five hours in the field chasing leather,” Durston said, referring to Sussex’s daunting total of 325 for four from 40 overs - before the Unicorns pulled off the highest successful run-chase in the history of 40-over cricket.
“Steffan rang me at tea-time about a possible trial for the t20, which made me smile. Then I went and got a hundred.
“On the way home (Derbyshire head of cricket) John Morris rang me. He said, ‘Timing’s everything - we need to get you up and have a chat’.
“I got an eight-week trial for the Twenty20. In my fourth game for Derbyshire I made a hundred off 50 balls and on the Monday morning we agreed a contract.”
Durston’s success represented one in the eye for Somerset. They deemed him surplus to requirements after their involvement in the Champions League Twenty20 in late 2009 despite a first-class average of 37.
Being released by the county where he had spent more than two thirds of his life was “a bitter pill” for Durston, who made 35 first-class appearance in eight seasons and failed to hold down a regular place in a Somerset side that went from also-rans to LV= County Championship title challengers.
“I first played for Somerset when I was 10,” said Durston, now 30. “I desperately didn’t want it to end and I was still fighting hard to keep my contract.
“I thought I’d done enough during my Somerset career. Looking back, there were signs that they weren’t going to keep me, but I was too close to see it.
“That winter I was coaching and teaching at school in Somerset. That was the career I was looking into. But I felt I had a lot more to give after the Somerset chapter.
“I wasn’t lazy as such at Somerset, but when I didn’t have a contract I felt I had to double my efforts in order to be seen. A semi-professional should work harder than a professional.
“I said to myself that if I got a chance to play again, I’d give it everything.”
Durston’s story is not unique. Mike O’Shea, released by Glamorgan at the same time as Somerset let Durston go, won a return to his former county on the back of his performances for the Unicorns.
It is a tale Durston has been only too happy to pass on to the current Unicorns squad, whom he coached over the winter. They begin their campaign against Lancashire at Old Trafford on Sunday.
“The lads could see my story,” he said. “It’s like a carrot for this year’s crop. I hope more people come through to get a second bite or a chance in the game.
“I’ve bought a new house in Derbyshire now and I couldn’t be happier. That wouldn’t have happened without the Unicorns story. It shows you what can happen by being given an opportunity and grabbing it.
“I hope it can work for others. I’ll always follow the Unicorns’ scores - they mean a lot to me.”