No let-up for hungry Davies
In his old age, Mark Davies might go giddy at the number of wickets he took in 2008, but there is one he is likely to remember with complete clarity: Andrew Flintoff.
The Durham paceman had already ripped through the heart of the Lancashire batting order on an Old Trafford belter, removing Mark Chilton, Mohammad Yousuf and Mal Loye before the England all-rounder strode to the crease.
Flintoff was looking for quick runs to press his claims for an England recall for the Test series with New Zealand. But Davies produced a beauty first up, which Flintoff edged to Paul Collingwood at slip.
“To get Andrew Flintoff first ball was big,” Davies told ecb.co.uk. “I’d actually been waiting 10 years for the chance to bowl at him again.
“I’ve only played against him once before, when I was 17. It was at Blackpool and he whacked the ball everywhere.
“He reminded me about that at Old Trafford so it was great to get him.
“I know he was down at the time and not really on top of his game, but it meant so much to get such a great player.”
Davies did not have to wait all that long to re-acquaint himself with Flintoff. He often found himself bowling at England’s batsmen when the England Performance Programme provided valuable practice ahead of the ongoing Test series in India.
Few could argue with Davies’ selection for the EPP squad - he took seven wickets on that May day against Lancashire and 39 at an average of just 15 apiece in 11 LV County Championship matches, helping Durham to the first championship pennant in their short history as a first-class county.
A reinvigorated Steve Harmison may have been the signature image of Durham’s season, but Davies, the 27-year-old from Middlesbrough, was arguably just as crucial.
He thrived on seaming tracks at the Riverside and Basingstoke later in the season to collect 10-45 against Kent and 10-71 against Hampshire respectively, the only man to take 10 wickets twice in the championship in 2008.
As long as he can stay injury-free, Davies could be the lynchpin of Durham’s attack when their championship season begins against Yorkshire at the Riverside on April 22 next year, certainly if Harmison is away with England.
But he believes his brief will not change: “My role is always the same - to be as accurate as I can and to concede as few runs as possible.
“It works nicely when Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett are striking with their extra pace. But my role tends to stay the same whatever team I’m in.
“Any side in the country would miss Steve Harmison. It would apply a little more pressure but we’ve got to stand up and be counted.”
For all his lethal performances, some continue to believe that Davies is a fair-weather bowler, able only to take wickets in helpful conditions.
Davies was denied the chance to demonstrate his versatility by the Mumbai atrocities, which cut short the EPP’s stay in India and led to the cancellation of their two tour matches.
“To some people at least, I’ve got to prove I can bowl on flat wickets and that I’m not ‘a Riverside bowler’,” Davies said.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me, mostly because we do bowl on different wickets around the country.
“I’ve been at Loughborough training with Kevin Shine (EPP bowling coach). He’s pointed to a couple of ways I can work on my bowling - variations like off-cutters and different balls that can help me out.”
Whatever happens in the rest of his career, Davies, schooled in the Durham leagues and the Durham Academy, will always be part of the squad that won the county’s first pennant.
“It means everything to me,” says Davies. “The club had put a lot of time and effort into producing young cricketers such as myself.
“To see people like (director of cricket) Geoff Cook so happy - he’s put so much into it over the years.
“Harmy is a guy who has done nigh on everything in the game, but it clearly meant so much to him to win the championship.
“My granddad used to take me along to watch Durham as a kid, when they got beaten pretty much every game.
“Even when I was starting off as a player, when Jon Lewis was captain, we struggled, perhaps trying to bring kids through too young.
“Winning one game was like winning the championship back then.”