If Monday was all about putting the ball in the right place and letting it do the rest, yesterday was a hard slog for Durham’s bowlers.
To get 96 overs in was a bonus on a day when dark clouds constantly skirted the ground but what little rain dropped on it was fleeting, and shrugged off by the umpires. After taking four wickets in the opening 24 overs of Middlesex’s first innings, eight in a day might seem a poor return, but it was a very different day.
At Chester-le-Street in recent seasons it has been advisable to get the bulk of your wicket-taking done on the first two days.
“The pitch was probably slower than the previous day,” explained Mark Wood. “If the ball does seam you can either play inside the line of it or follow it and you’re not really going to nick it.
“Rushy (Chris Rushworth) ended up with one wicket in the day and was probably the most unlucky bowler I’ve ever seen!
“(John) Hastings had just come off a plane, so for him to run in the way he did and for Stokesey (Ben Stokes) to bowl like that just coming back from injury, I think as a bowling unit we can be very proud of our efforts.
“We worked hard at it and we eventually got our rewards. It was a hard day but a pleasing day.”
Middlesex ended it 90-2 following-on, needing another 149 to make Durham bat again.
Until three wickets in 17 deliveries brought the first innings to a speedy conclusion, all the batsmen Durham came up scored between 42 and 63. The latter was a career-best for Toby Roland-Jones (bettering the mark set in his last game, when he also produced best match bowling figures), while Paul Stirling’s was his first County Championship fifty.
He ought never to have made it, Stokes kicking the ground in frustration after putting him down at gully when the Irishman was on 17. Poor fielding has been the scourge of Durham’s early season, but this was their only aberration on a day when Keaton Jennings and Michael Richardson took excellent catches.
It was not just the fielders who had to make things happen.
Wood seemed to have lost his zip of the previous day until late in the first innings, while Stokes’ bowling does not yet look back to Test standard on his return from injury. The lengths of the previous day were shortened, the batsmen glad of it.
Luck played its part too, the ball appearing to slip out of Stokes’ hand and demolishing John Simpson’s stumps on the full for the day’s first wicket. Stokes was apologetic, Simpson looked to the umpire in the hope of a no-ball reprieve, but had to go.
Hastings produced an excellent delivery to remove Joe Denly, bouncing a bit more and swinging in, and gully Richardson took his third good catch of the innings. It was the first of two wickets in the final over of a session, perhaps making Durham feel slightly better about their efforts than they ought to have.
Certainly the batsmen enjoyed their day more than the bowlers, Roland-Jones and Tim Murtagh merrily swinging the bat to good effect. Jennings also took a good catch, at short leg, to give Scott Borthwick his first wicket since the season’s opening game. Injuries have been a factor, but that is why the leg-spinner, who leapt for joy at Stirling’s departure, will not retain his Test place next week for all his batting brilliance.
After a cut brought up his career-best, Roland-Jones tried to force Wood’s next delivery off the back foot and play onto middle stump.
After tea, Steven Finn was bowled driving a full ball from Wood, and Murtagh pulled Borthwick for six, only to be stumped coming down the pitch to the next delivery and end the innings. But once Rushworth trapped Chris Rogers lbw for a second score of one, wicket-taking reverted to being a bit of a slog.
Wood’s imagination and Jennings’ athleticism broke the shackles.
Dawid Malan had looked in good touch, never more so than when driving a full Stokes delivery to the boundary, but Wood unsettled and unseated him with the short ball.
First Malan hooked just out of Rushworth’s reach at fine leg. He pulled the next delivery, also banged in, and must again have thought he had got away with it until Jennings, sprinting in, dived forward to take the ball brilliantly.
Yesterday was a forecast-defying day of weather, not for the first time in Durham’s season.
If they get another today, a first Championship win of the season can be claimed – but it will take a lot of hard work.
Graham Onions did not bowl in the second team’s one-day win over Leeds/Bradford MCCU yesterday after reporting stiffness in his injured back following Monday’s net session. He will be reassessed later this week.