The pressure was on Durham yesterday. While others faltered, Mark Stoneman and Michael Richardson rose to it.
Stoneman started the day 48 not out, knowing his side’s hopes of saving this game rested on his shoulders. When he came to the crease after two wickets for one run, Richardson too appreciated he had to deliver.
In a game where no other Durham batsman made it past 10, both posted career-best scores.
Their efforts could still be wasted if the champions are not careful, but it was an encouraging indicator of the mental toughness of two men who will be the cornerstone of Durham’s batting for the next five years.
“Sometimes that type of pressure makes you concentrate a bit more,” Richardson said after his 148. “Knowing it was on TV puts a bit of extra pressure on you, as does the fact it was Yorkshire, our big rivals last year, and there was a big crowd in. But I felt relatively relaxed.”
Sky’s presence is a factor. They are only at a couple of County Championship matches a year. “You’re definitely more aware of the cameras,” Richardson conceded. “You want to make sure you’re sending out the right signals. Even though it is only a snapshot you can get cast in an unfair light.
“I think it does bring a bit more pressure. I don’t know if everyone will admit that, but that’s how I felt.”
Richardson took an hour-and-a-half to progress from 35 to 50 after lunch, although he saw little of the strike. Stoneman was lbw during that period and another batsman might have got flustered, and got out.
Liam Plunkett tested him. The most creative Yorkshire bowlers on a pitch much flatter than those he was used to in his playing days here decided to bang the ball in.
He had Richardson and Stoneman ducking and diving, and when the former was on 44 he was unable to drop his hands in time, and edged over the slips. When he got there, with a cut, it was the third time already this season Richardson had reached 50, yet it seemed a weight off his shoulders. He was soon taking on the hook, even with two men out for it. He caressed a Jack Brooks delivery to the boundary, then pulled him for a flat six in the space of half an over.
The 90s were much less nervous than the 40s, although he fell over on 98 trying to play Ryan Sidebottom into the legside.
When the ball struck his pad it was missing the stumps.
Richardson’s use of his feet to Adil Rashid was generally excellent, but it would be his undoing. Having launched the leg-spinner for a lovely six, he came down the pitch again to the next ball, ready to score his maiden 150. But Rashid turned the ball away from his bat and Andrew Hodd completed the stumping.
Richardson, who has a fondness for Yorkshire’s bowling, admitted his desire to score the 11 needed in three-and-a-half overs for a fourth batting point clouded his thinking.
He had started in a bit of a crisis. It could have been worse still had Jonny Bairstow not missed the stumps with Richardson, on two, stranded. Scott Borthwick, batting with a damaged finger, was lbw and Kumar Sangakkara went for a second-ball duck. Needing 440 to avoid the follow-on, Durham were 70-3.
Sangakkara, just starting to adjust to English conditions ahead of Sri Lanka’s tour, edged straight to Kane Williamson, who spilled it. Adam Lyth snaffled it. Had it been Durham fielding, it would have gone down. Hodd also took an excellent catch when fellow wicketkeeper Phil Mustard played an ugly swipe at a ball far too wide of off-stump.
Generally, though, Yorkshire’s catching was poor, if not quite as bad as Durham’s. Lyth dropped a sitter off Mark Wood, Rashid downed a good chance off Stoneman, 102 not out at the time, and Hodd reprieved Graham Onions. Quite a few edges fell just short of the cordon too.
Richardson is rarely less than furious when he gets out, but he had good cause yesterday.
Durham could have done with more still from both him and Stoneman but what they really required was someone else to contribute more than ten. Only Onions and Jamie Harrison, not out at the close, did.
Paul Collingwood looked like he would, adding 50 with Richardson before his eyes lit up at a Rashid long-hop. He took a big yahoo and, with the ball keeping a smidgeon low, was left red-faced by the rattling timber. Wood dragged an attempted drive off the leg-spinner on to his stumps.
Stoneman did everything he had said he would the night before, batting diligently with an eye on the scoring opportunities.
He reached three figures in style, pulling then driving through mid-off from consecutive Brooks deliveries.
He went on to mix the sublime and the ridiculous, flashing hard to be dropped by Rashid, chopping down brilliantly on a Sidebottom ball which, had he not been in such good touch, would have been way too close, then shouldering arms to a delivery bound for off-stump.
It was an excellent innings, but whether it was a worthwhile one will depend on others today.