Something unusual happened at Derby yesterday – things did not go Durham’s way.
Since an early-August wobble saw them lose at Lord’s in the County Championship and miss out on the semi-finals of both limited-overs competitions, the Riversiders have been building a momentum which has taken them top of the table.
After wins over Surrey, Yorkshire and Sussex which were almost embarrassingly one-sided, cricket and the English weather yesterday reminded Durham that Championships never come easy.
Things started well enough, with Paul Collingwood winning the toss.
It was clear rain would not be too far away and the floodlights came on after just 28 minutes, so it made sense to bowl. But chances were few and far between in the 31 overs before rain ended play with Derbyshire 99-1. When it did, Durham were more grateful than their relegation-threatened hosts.
“It didn’t come at a bad time for us, a little break to reassess because things didn’t quite go to plan for us,” Mark Stoneman commented. “The morning wasn’t disastrous but we would have liked to get a few more wickets having chosen to bowl first.
“We just bowled a bit two sides of the wicket. There were a few balls down the legside so we didn’t really build pressure to create chances from there. But there was still a bit of assistance from the pitch and movement through the air. It was slightly disappointing we didn’t get more wickets than we did.”
Chris Rushworth was initially the chief culprit when it came to sending the ball down legside but once he found his line the Sunderland-born seamer became – like new-ball partner Graham Onions – economical but not that threatening.
Derbyshire’s openers drove elegantly, Paul Borrington through mid-on, Ben Slater twice through the covers in an over.
It might have suggested Durham were bowling too full in search of swing, although Rushworth pitched up the delivery which sent Slater’s off-stump cartwheeling.
Onions and Jamie Harrison – taking the place of the more experienced Mitchell Claydon after recovering from an ankle problem – had problems from the Pavilion End. Onions did not seem happy with the footholds, while Harrison kept overstepping the crease.
Both switched ends and while Onions settled down, Harrison’s no-ball problem – a recurring feature of his career to rank alongside his injuries – did not. In seven overs he sent down five.
Derbyshire captain Wayne Madsen has 1,235 County Championship runs this season at an average over 50 – good in any circumstances, exceptional while leading a team which until three wins from their last four games has struggled as badly as his.
Durham might have had him on 17 had their slip cordon been a fraction closer. Onions found the edge but it dropped in front of Scott Borthwick.
Madsen greeted Harrison’s return at the Racecourse End with consecutive boundaries – a flick wide of mid-on and a straight drive. Usman Arshad got the same treatment from the first ball of the only over possible after lunch.
Perhaps mindful, both in-form teams want to win this game for different reasons, the umpires played through a brief shower before lunch, but the rain was too persistent to ignore after it.
Title rivals Yorkshire had more luck with the weather and the ball. Encouragingly, Durham were largely oblivious.
“I couldn’t actually tell you what the score is at Hove,” said Stoneman as he sheltered in the pavilion. “We’ve just gone about our usual stuff.
“If you start looking elsewhere at this stage with three games to go there’s a chance of taking our eyes off the ball. We’ve just got to focus on what we’ve got to do. Everyone’s just getting ready for the next time we play.
“We’ve got some good momentum so it would have been good to be out there forging a strong position in the game.
“We know how the English season is so whether it’s at the start or towards the back end we know there’s going to be rain delays and the like.
“But we can get results in three-and-a-half days.” With a century at Scarborough and 96 versus Sussex, Stoneman has been instrumental in Durham’s sprint to the line.
“Throughout the team, when games have been on the line, people have been able to stand up with the bat or the ball and it’s just nice to be a part of that,” he said. “You want to be successful all the way through the season, but when the time comes and you get in, you want to be able to make a big score in crucial games as they all are now.
“I think it just comes with maturity. In the early years when I was getting 20s and 30s I was trying to work out what gears to go through, whether you stick to it or keep pushing on. Sometimes playing at the Riverside there can be a ball with your name on it and you just start questioning if you were looking to do something expansive. You go through periods where you’re trying to work it out but now I’m pretty comfortable with where my game’s at.
“If I happen to get three or four balls to hit in an over, I’m happy to hit 12 runs. It’s not a case of trying to look to defend. It’s a case of playing the ball on its merit; if there are scoring balls there, take the opportunities. If a ball comes along with your name on it you want to make sure you’ve taken your opportunities.”