It was inevitable on his return from eight weeks out with a broken wrist, Ben Stokes would take the two big wickets of the day.
Yet if Stokes’ career is about acting out Hollywood-style scripts, it was a man who likes to sneak under the radar who deserves the biggest share of the credit for yesterday’s fightback.
With Nottinghamshire 221-3, Durham had lost their way after an excellent opening.
With Usman Arshad promoted from 12th man at Taunton earlier in the week to new-ball bowler, it was perhaps unsurprising the Riversiders struggled once the change bowlers were introduced.
With Graham Onions, Mark Wood, Jamie Harrison and Scott Borthwick injured, Paul Collingwood’s options were limited.
At 29-3 with less than an hour gone, Chris Read’s decision to bat first was looking somewhat dubious, yet his side added another 192 runs with remarkably few alarms as the pitch dried out from the deluge which had delayed the start for half-an-hour.
Then came Gareth Breese. Stokes’ golden arm claimed the wickets of Samit Patel and James Taylor but, much as he would prefer not to, Breese should take the plaudits.
The Jamaican is a cricketing jack of all trades. He will bat at eight and it is only because Gavin Main struggled so much in his first bowling spell as a first-class cricketer Breese bowled 24 overs. He is an excellent slip fielder, handy in the absence of Borthwick and his poppadom fingers.
What he was not in the side for was to be a specialist third-man fielder.
Yet it was from that unlikely position he removed Patel and Taylor with outstanding catches,
Holding chances has been Durham’s biggest downfall in their winless defence of their County Championship, yet the old man of the team showed how it was done, sprinting off the boundary and diving forward when Stokes found the shoulder of Patel’s bat with extra bounce, then Taylor top-edged an attempted cut.
Durham had been crying out for such magic.
Teenage fast bowler Main, pressed into action ahead of schedule by Durham’s injuries, had found himself unable to follow the example set by Arshad and Rushworth.
The new-ball pair bowled immaculate lines deserving of even better than their three quick wickets. For the second game running Rushworth struck with Durham’s first ball of the match, finding Steven Mullaney’s edge.
Arshad had Phil Jaques edging to Breese at slip before Michael Lumb stupidly tried to pull him for four and picked out Keaton Jennings, in from the square leg boundary.
Main replaced Arshad but could not maintain his standards. His first delivery was full and outside off stump. Gordon Muchall made an excellent stop at gully, but there were still three boundaries in the over.
Not that Stokes started any better, sending down a very wide wide to kick off his return from the next over.
Too full and too wide too often, Main’s first four-over spell cost 29.
Patel was the main beneficiary, racing to 50 from 41 deliveries while Taylor plodded along. Being struck on the hand by Rushworth on 34 seemed to get the blood pumping around Taylor’s little body and the headstart he gave his fellow England reject was soon made up, launching sixes over long-on in consecutive Breese overs. Patel belatedly joined the fun with his own to move to 98.
His departure changed the contest.
Riki Wessels was lucky his top-edged pull to get off the mark went to the rope rather than to hand and Michael Richardson was fuming Neil Bainton did not respond to his direct hit with a raised digit as the son of his dad’s first Test captain pinched a single. Taylor got the Breese treatment and Chris Read took 27 deliveries getting off the mark, lucky that when he top-edged on five Jennings was unable to turn and dive to it from short leg.
That was during a much-improved second spell from Main. Switched to the Pavilion End, he tightened his lines and was rewarded three times.
To take the catch off his own bowling when Wessels top-edged must have been a thrill, but uprooting a scoreless Stuart Broad’s off stump with a yorker was not a bad follow-up.
He showed good fitness to take a wicket in the 95th over too, Ajmal Shazad top-edging a pull from the first delivery of his final spell.
Before it, Peter Siddle and Read smacked the new ball around in a 59-run stand from 66 deliveries until Stokes, compression tape on his wrist, again broke the partnership.
His knack of making things happen from nowhere has been badly missed, and in two weeks Durham will have to think again about how to cope without him.
“There was quite a lot on my shoulders and that’s the way I want it, I didn’t want to take the easy route,” said Stokes in his first Durham appearance as a Test match player.
“I didn’t think I would be back this early but I did everything in my rehab to give myself the best chance.
“I leaked a few runs but that’sthe first time I’ve bowled off my full run-up.”