Only one thing can enliven this County Championship match, and if Durham are not careful they might provide it.
The first two days against Warwickshire have been as flat as the home bowlers made this Chester-le-Street pitch look.
The only thing that can save the game is for Durham to be shot out for a low score. Resuming this morning on 62-3, needing 261 more just to avoid a second successive follow-on, it could just happen.
The hokey-cokey nature of their innings – out for 14 deliveries, in for 28 minutes while it rained, out again for 7.1 overs, then back inside for just over an hour – did not help, but Durham have wilted under the big numbers Warwickshire posted on the scoreboard.
They have also come up against Keith Barker, who loves playing Durham.
The former Blackburn Rovers footballer came into the game averaging 34 with the bat and 15 with the ball against the Riversiders, and swung the ball more – and more effectively – than any home player. The gusty wind apart, conditions were in his favour, but they had been for Durham the previous afternoon.
Peter Hartley seemed unimpressed with the line of his follow-through but he got everything else right.
Keaton Jennings had his timber rattled playing down the wrong line and Michael Richardson was kicking the ground in frustration after edging to the juggling Rikki Clarke at slip.
Mark Stoneman had gone by then, dying by the sword when Tim Ambrose took an excellent catch from the inside-edge off his airy drive.
Like Scott Borthwick, Gordon Muchall batted well in the gloom, off the mark with a gorgeous cover drive, then clipping the next ball to the boundary for four.
Looking good in the middle is rarely a problem for him. Looking good in the scorebook has been his downfall since a mammoth Trent Bridge century. He is due another innings of significance, and today would be as helpful a time as any.
Having finished day one strongly, Durham started day two well, but were unable to maintain it.
John Hastings and Mark Wood bowled better with the old ball than anyone did with the new, keeping the replacement in its wrapper for a couple of extra overs as they got swing and – very unusually this season – bounce from it.
What they could not get was wickets – at least not in the plural.
Hastings embarrassed Ambrose when he nipped a ball into off-stump after the former England wicketkeeper had shouldered arms, earning the Australian a first five-wicket haul for his county. But Durham were unable to add to their fourth wicket for 31 runs.
Wood was still feisty, striking Sam Hain on the helmet when 12 not out, and Hastings still swung it, but Clarke met them with a straight bat, driving Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth down the ground when they came on armed with the overdue second new ball. The shot that took Clarke to 50 was so straight it ricocheted off the stumps at the non-striker’s end on its way to the boundary.
He was more aggressive to Borthwick’s leg-spin, following another straight four with a pulled six.
Hain was more passive in their 101-run seventh-wicket partnership, narrowly beaten to his half-century despite a ten-run head start. When the senior partner was caught behind, driving without footwork, he carried on in the same vein. Like Durham, Warwickshire have a lengthy order which allows the batsmen to continue without needing to panic.
Even a farcical six-minute delay for bad light did little to hamper Warwickshire’s progress towards a 472-run score which ought to make them safe already from defeat.
Barker was 15 when he hammered the ball back at Borthwick, who tipped it up and caught it at the second attempt, seemingly without even breaking any of his fragile fingers.
Jeetan Patel contributed 32, though not without risk. A chip passed the considerable distance over Hastings’ head at mid-on, while Muchall, running across from mid-off, was only able to knock his skied drive over the rope for four. He later caught Hain the wrong side of the boundary.
Backing away a second time as Onions ran into the crease was not a good idea and the short ball Patel got for his troubles was tamely helped to Mustard for the rusty bowler’s first Championship wicket since picking up a back injury on May 11.
Normally throwing Onions the ball for the 110th over with one wicket needed for maximum bowling points would be an obvious move, but while he feels his way back he is not Durham’s most potent weapon and, unlike their guests, the hosts missed out on full points. Onions conceded 121 runs taking his scalp. Never have Championship wickets come at greater cost to him.
If Patel rode his luck, Hain looked the part. The right-hander, 19 tomorrow, has the cv of an England player – born in Hong Kong, raised in Queensland and an Australian Under-19 international who has switched sides.
The shot which took him to three figures for the second time in First-Class cricket was an upper-cut four off Onions. Only when No.11 Boyd Rankin joined him was he spooked into such aggression.
Even Rankin hung around for 20 deliveries as Hain scored the 18 needed for his hundred, and a few on top of that. The delivery after Muchall escorted Hain’s solitary six, the Irishman took a swing across the line and gave Borthwick his best Championship figures since May 2013.
Meanwhile, Durham lost their Second XI Trophy game at Leicestershire by four wickets. Stuart Poynter (41), Paul Coughlin (42) and Ryan Buckley (42) made 40s. The sides meet in the Championship at Hinckley, starting this morning.