No Durham No.10 has scored 71 before, let alone on their County Championship debut.
So to hear Paul Coughlin was so anxious he could barely hold his bat yesterday, was more surprising than the assured innings he produced.
“I felt really nervous until I was on about 20,” he admitted afterwards. “I walked out and said to The Colonel (Phil Mustard), ‘I cannot really grip my bat properly,’ because my hand was shaking.”
If Coughlin’s nerves were obvious from the middle, they were not from beyond the rope.
The cut behind square which brought his first boundary brilliantly disguised his worries. He drove well too, through the offside and straight.
But the Wearsider had good cause to be jittery.
He came to the crease with his team 184-8 in their relegation battle with Lancashire, and with Mustard guided them to the serene waters of 310-8. Two more runs this morning and theirs will be the county’s highest ninth-wicket partnership.
There were personal reasons which must have piled on the pressure. Coughlin was born three months after Glen Chapple’s First-Class debut, in 1992. Coughlin’s came against Australia A 20 years later, but the delay until his Championship bow must have seemed like an eternity to him.
Out of necessity, he has spent much of the time batting, and it showed yesterday.
A stress fracture of the back meant Coughlin could only sit and watch others take their chance in 2013, unable to bowl. He had a promising pre-season, only to suffer a side strain which again stopped him bowling until this month.
“I’ve almost felt like I should have been in this position a few times, then I’ve got an injury which has set me back quite a bit,” Coughlin reflected. “All the waiting adds to the pressure.”
The batting he has done to keep ticking over has served him well.
For once injury worked in his favour, getting his chance because Mark Wood suffered an ankle problem expected to keep him out for seven to 10 days.
He was also fortunate to bat alongside not only the most experienced player in Durham history, but a man who naturally puts others at ease. “When you make your debut, you’re always going to be nervous,” said Mustard. “It’s about trying to get the batsman to watch the ball and play it.”
Coughlin’s innings was not without its good fortune – a leading edge dropping to safety on 24, another went to fourth slip when only three were in, and a very difficult left-handed slip catch was put down by Tom Smith when he was 31 not out. Considering Coughlin was only halfway to his 50 when the second new ball was taken it was necessary and well-earned luck.
His eye-catching shots – like those of the elegant-looking Gordon Muchall – provided a contrast with Mustard’s scratchy form. It took the wicketkeeper 20 deliveries to get off the mark, and 36 to find the boundary.
The younger Mustard would probably have got frustrated – particularly with Muchall cutting and whipping fours with aplomb until clipping a legside gimme straight to midwicket – and got out, but the older version knuckled down, shrugging off the loss of Muchall and John Hastings for a four-ball duck to guide his side to the sort of total they must have hoped for in the first hour.
Durham started tremendously for a team asked to bat in helpful bowling conditions after drizzle delayed the start by 15 minutes.
Keaton Jennings was unusually quick to find his fluency, cover-driving and cutting boundaries in the fourth over. It was a big disappointment when he picked out Usman Khawaja at gully on just 23, and no one looked more annoyed than him.
Mark Stoneman batted as he always does. He hit three fours in four balls during the seventh over, square either side of the wicket.
After a slow start to the season, the left-hander is Durham’s first batsman to 500 County Championship runs this season, with Michael Richardson quickly following.
Stoneman brought up his 59-ball half-century with a beautifully controlled three, but almost uniquely for him this year, did not turn his good start into something more substantial. Two balls later, Smith nipped one back in past his drive.
Smith was the only bowler to find the right length before lunch, and also had Scott Borthwick trapped in the corridor of uncertainty.
After lunch, Smith’s colleagues copied his length and scoring became hard. Durham made 84-3 in 35 afternoon-session overs.
When Richardson was lbw prodding forward to Kyle Hogg it was the first of three wickets for 10 runs. Hogg got one to nip off the seam and bounce a little more, straight on to the shoulder of Paul Collingwood’s bat and into Khawaja’s hands.
Ben Stokes followed a lovely straight-driven four by not getting forward to a ball which failed to bounce as he expected, and demolished his stumps.
When Muchall’s 57-run partnership with Mustard carelessly ended, it seemed Durham were going to make a real mess of things. They have Coughlin to thank for the fact they did not.