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Middle men are key for Durham

Durham will be looking for an improvement in the middle of both innings as they look to get their first win of the 2007 Twenty20 Cup at Derbyshire tonight.

Much has been made of the apparent lack of a gameplan when Durham have played in the 20-over competition in previous seasons, something they have been eager to address this summer. Coach Geoff Cook was satisfied with the way his side started and finished their innings against Lancashire at Old Trafford last Friday, but believes it was the middle which cost them victory.

Durham made a competitive 149-5 batting first, though it could have been more had Dale Benkenstein, Scott Styris and Will Smith not departed for a combined total of nine.

Whereas Durham's batting problems largely came in 11 consecutive overs bowled by Lancashire's trio of spinners, the Riversiders felt unable to give theirs more than four overs in total.

"I thought the way Phil Mustard and Michael Di Venuto started was excellent and the end of the innings was very, very good," said Cook when he looked back on the six-wicket defeat. "It was pleasing to see them do some of the things we spoke about." The opening pair added 58 runs in six overs after Benkenstein elected to bat first.

"Where we probably went wrong was when their spinners were on," Cook said. "We maybe tried too hard to hit fours and sixes.

"It's important to keep that momentum going but at the same time not throw your wickets away. But Benkenstein and Styris are two very experienced cricketers so I don't have any concerns about them on that score."

Durham's top scorer was Gordon Muchall with 44 in his first one-day appearance since August 27 last year. The 24-year-old scored his runs off 33 deliveries.

"We picked Gordon because we know batting in Twenty20 cricket in that position (six) you need specific skills," Cook said. "As well as being able to hit fours and sixes you also need to be able to run quickly between the wickets and Gordon and Garry Park did that very well.

"We managed to practise a little of that in Cape Town in pre-season and that helped us to identify Gordon as someone who would do a good job in that role. Hopefully he can now build on the confidence he gained at Old Trafford and take that into the rest of his cricket."

Spinners are becoming an increasingly important weapon in Twenty20 cricket and Durham had planned to make more use of Smith's off spin, but Cook said they felt unable to do so with the destructive Mal Loye in full flow.

"Our spinners (Gareth Breese was the other) came on when they had a partnership well set and it was very difficult for them," he said. "Mal Loye hits some exceptional shots and seems to pre-meditate most of them."

Graham Onions is expected to come in for Liam Plunkett in the only change from the side beaten on Friday.

Plunkett is in the England squad to play West Indies in two Twenty20 internationals this week, along with new captain Paul Collingwood. Steve Harmison is again rested as England look to nurse their centrally-contracted player through the rest of the summer. The 28-year-old has a hernia injury and all interested parties are anxious to get him through as much cricket as possible before he is operated on.

Tonight's game will be played under Derby's permanent floodlights, a slightly unnecessary gimmick given that the Twenty20 competition is scheduled at this time of year specifically so evening games can be played in natural light.

The match will be Australian Di Venuto's first at Derby since surprisingly being released last winter. Derbyshire are one of only two sides to have beaten Durham in 50-over cricket in 2007.

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