For Durham to score 400, as they did against Surrey last week, is rare.
Yesterday they managed it in a day, picking up maximum batting points for the first time this season. These are heady times for the title-chasing Riversiders.
Yorkshire’s efforts on this benign pitch will put Durham’s 404-6 – and counting – into perspective but the visitors made Chester-le-Street look like a featherbed last week only for Surrey to bat like it was a minefield, so the draw may not be the certainty it looks.
The important thing is that in a County Championship game they must not lose, Durham are in a position where they now should not. Yesterday’s toss was a very good one for Paul Collingwood to win.
With a crowd of 5,500 – it felt like more but was still thought to be the biggest in this season’s Championship – boosted by a healthy visiting contingent at the Scarborough Cricket Festival, good weather and a bouncy pitch, the conditions and cricket matched the top-of-the-table occasion.
Collingwood and his team rose to it.
Taking advantage of the short boundaries, Mark Stoneman scored a whirlwind third century of the season, Ben Stokes his first.
This year Stoneman has only made two Championship scores between 10 and 50. When he gets in, he makes the most of it. It has not always been the case.
He was in imperious form. Ninety-eight of his 122 runs came in boundaries. When he was out Durham had only 195, and that was with the always-aggressive Stokes 45 not out.
Twice Stoneman pulled balls barely short of a length – once for one of his 23 fours, then his only six. He did not hesitate when the bowlers did drop short, but was equally impressive through the covers.
The ball swung early on for Ryan Sidebottom and Jack Brooks but only briefly. Sidebottom got the second new ball doing more for longer.
Durham were 5-2, Sidebottom perhaps fortunate to have Keaton Jennings lbw for a duck with a ball that may have been heading down legside, but claiming Scott Borthwick more convincingly two deliveries later.
Liam Plunkett has had an excellent debut season since leaving Durham but when Stoneman and Will Smith targeted him, he struggled.
His initial two-over spell cost 22, and his first back went for nine. Plunkett’s removal started a run of five overs for six runs which prompted Smith to offer a brilliantly-taken catch to third slip Kane Williamson.
A clip off his legs to get off the mark showed Stokes was ready to take advantage of the favourable conditions.
Both the league leaders’ spinners were on before lunch and the pitch is scuffing up already, so Borthwick and perhaps even Smith with Ryan Buckley not selected, could get the chance to make up for their failures with the bat.
Stoneman looked more vulnerable in the 100s – not the worst time to have a weakness – edging through gully Williamson on 104, then glancing wide of the slips when brilliantly squared up by Sidebottom.
He swished at the left-armer and under-edged to end his innings, but not the entertainment.
Stokes had already taken Andrew Gale out of the game, fielding brilliantly at short midwicket then wishing he had not as it took him off the field for 59 painful overs.
Destructiveness comes naturally to Stokes but recently centuries have not. This was his second in the Championship since June 2011.
He brought it up by punching the ball through long-off for four, then the air.
It was a good way to mark his return to England’s one-day squad because unlike when he first broke into the side, the all-rounder’s batting is now the question mark against him.
Stokes’ second 50 came off 45 deliveries, although he was dropped on 92 when a stretching Adam Lyth got his left hand to the ball at second slip, but was unable to hold it.
Lyth also put down Phil Mustard on five after getting both hands above his head but that too was a difficult opportunity. Adil Rashid bore the brunt. Stokes marked the start of the leg-spinner’s third spell with consecutive fours through cover, mid-on and straight long-off. A front-foot pull later was brutal.
It would be his undoing. He pulled Rashid into the Popular Bank for six then five balls later he tried a repeat. Stokes got the same height on the ball but no distance, coming down in Jonny Bairstow’s gloves. While Stoneman and Stokes caught the eye, Collingwood quietly accumulating runs of equal personal importance. When he hit Steven Patterson straight down the ground for four it brought up his first half-century in any competition since early June (though he did sustain a hand injury at Scarborough later that month). The stiff back which troubled him in Monday’s YB40 game did not stop Collingwood swivelling on the pull having been helped into his stride by a Rashid full toss.
Mustard showed no interest in batting for the close, taking a big swipe with less than two overs left and seeing the edge fly clear of the slips. The ball after cutting Durham to 400, he missed a reverse sweep and was lbw.
Collingwood ended 26 runs short of being Durham’s third centurion in the day.
That really would have been the stuff of fantasy.