SOMETIMES you can bowl too well. Yesterday Callum Thorp had the measure of conditions which could have been designed for him.
The Australian was excellent in his opening spell of the match on Wednesday and better still in his third, nearly 48 hours later. Yet the inconsistent Chris Rushworth and Mitchell Claydon earned Durham two bonus points.
At 11.30am we finally glimpsed a pitch greener than when last seen through Wednesday’s gloom. It would be another hour-and-a-half before play resumed.
Following a washed-out second day, the task for the home bowlers was getting rid of Hampshire quickly and giving the batsmen the best opportunity to claim as many bonus points as possible. With a title race so ridiculously tight league leaders Durham could be fourth this time next week, every one will matter.
Thorp set about his task in the usual way, gently lobbing the ball up, allowing it to hoop and landing it on the right spot with metronomic accuracy.
A four cut by Neil McKenzie trashed his figures – 9-4-13-0 for the spell. Graham Onions pitched fuller. Whether trying to give the ball the best opportunity to swing, or McKenzie the least (probably both), he too outperformed his figures – two maidens but no wickets in a five-over stint.
Mirroring day one, Rushworth and Claydon eased the pressure with four-balls. Rushworth is making his first County Championship appearance this season precisely because swing is also his primary weapon. Claydon has improved immeasurably in four years at Durham, using his bulkier frame to find more speed. Neither, though, has been a four-day regular this season because of bouts of generosity.
Rushworth’s first ball after replacing Onions was patted for four on the pull by McKenzie, his sixth guided over slips. If you want to know how good his wicket-taking delivery was, consider this: McKenzie, ten runs short of adding a century to a Twenty20 50 and four-day double-hundred, could not resist a nibble.
The South African’s was the fifth wicket to fall, with another batsman indisposed. James Vince was twice treated for a back spasm before retiring hurt with the score 123-3. They are all the rage at Chester-le-Street – Paul Collingwood suffered one seven days earlier, although Durham are hopeful he will face Leicestershire in tomorrow’s CB40.
Dimitri Mascarenhas was fortunate not to lay bat on his fourth ball. A lovely drive through straight long-off and a full toss dispatched off his legs turned the tables but he was foxed again on 41, swishing his bat angrily after trying to play a ball that left him. It seemed overly self-critical.
Sean Ervine took 13 balls getting off the mark then failed to build on it, run out from midwicket by Mark Stoneman’s brilliance.
Claydon also mixed gimmes and magic. Thorp dropped a rapid high chance at gully with Mascarenhas 44, but he nicked a beauty in the same over.
Matthew Bates batted slowly but well enough to make you despair at Hampshire’s decision to make Essex captain James Foster an offer he evidently could refuse. Foster is the country’s best wicketkeeper, but the glovework Bates showed in Sunday’s Twenty20 quarter-final makes one think he is worth some time and effort in the nets on his batting.
The biggest disappointment of a game which has so far been one long one was the timidity of umpires Nick Cook and Richard Illingworth to the light.
It was gloomy when the players came off just before tea, and again at a minute to five, but sides at either extreme of the table should have wanted to be out there.
Durham will again be without England Lions Ben Stokes and Scott Borthwick, while Stephen Harmison has an ankle injury.