Twelve months to the day, Paul Collingwood faced the media at Chester-le-Street and had to admit he had no idea what to expect from the pitch. A year on, little has changed.
Tinkering with the rules has not helped, but for the second time in as many games this season, Collingwood’s Durham were beaten by the pitch. At least unlike against Yorkshire last year, they were not defeated by the opposition.
Somerset were never likely to chase down the 337 in 82 overs they needed to win, even if some were a smidgeon disappointed they did not go after the 91 still needed from nine when the players shook hands.
Bowling out Nick Compton was another matter. The England discard averages 93.3 against the Riversiders and this was the first of his four hundreds against them not to be turned into a score of 150-plus – but only because he ran out of time. His desperation to do well seemed to be his undoing internationally but if that can be conquered, there are few better defensive batsmen. After Jonathan Trott’s problems, that is what the Three Lions need.
At the close it was the pitch, not Compton, Collingwood was cursing.
“It baffles me at times,” he admitted. “If you get cloud cover and the ball swings that pitch almost does all sorts. If the ball doesn’t swing it becomes a very slow, flat pitch which is hard to get people out on.
“It didn’t turn that much even though there were footmarks but for right-handed batsman you can’t really land it in the footmarks.
“I don’t think I could have set them any less because they bat pretty much down to No.11. They’re a dangerous batting side and when you’ve only had three days’ play you don’t really want to hand victory to the opposition.
“We could have had two new balls if we needed it but the bowlers were completely drained by the end. The last two games have taken a lot out of the guys.
“When the ball isn’t swinging it can be pretty demoralising to have Nick Compton’s bat blocking it.”
New rules which mean the heavy roller can only be used twice in a game have added to Collingwood’s exasperation.
“People seem to change the rules every year so you’ve got to be careful with the heavy roller,” he said. “You wonder if the indentations are going to cause more up and down movement or if it’s going to be like last year where the pitches got flatter and flatter. You have to gauge all these things as captain but I was batting in the morning, so that gave me a chance to assess the pitch.
“It didn’t really swing so I knew we were going to have to get a few more runs on the board and try to get that run-rate up a little bit if they were to go for the victory.”
Durham batted on for just short of an hour, extending their lead to 336.
They went about the right way, playing shots rather than simply occupying the crease as they had in a similar situation at Northampton seven days earlier. Graham Onions in particular threw the bat at everything – not such a bad thing.
Jamie Harrison was the 14th lbw victim of the game (there were still two to come), and Onions – having survived a chance which died on Jamie Overton two overs earlier, fell to an excellent catch from the same fielder running back from mid-on.
Full of positive intent, Collingwood made an 80-ball half-century before declaring nine wickets down.
Running through Somerset’s batting was never likely to be as easy second time around, especially not with Compton fit to take his place at No 3 having been forced to come in down the order by a first-innings neck spasm.
Compton looked extremely uncomfortable at the end of day two, and would probably have struggled to bat on Tuesday, but 24 hours of miserable weather gave him the rest he needed. Chris Rushworth made good use of the hour before lunch, taking an lbw from either end.
More encouraging still for Durham was the first ball to Compton, flashing past his ankles outside off stump. Strangely, though, low bounce was less prominent than in Somerset’s first innings.
In striving to keep the ball full and give it chance to swing, Durham’s batsmen were driven a number of times, with Durham University graduate Chris Jones looking particularly good until Rushworth cut him short on 24. Compton carried on in the same impressive vein.
It took a change of ball to break through after lunch, and Usman Arshad striking twice in his first 11 deliveries with it. Scott Borthwick took a good two-handed catch at slip to get rid of Alviro Petersen and James Hildreth feathered behind.
Once Borthwick put down a more routine catch with Craig Kieswetter nine not out, he and Compton were able to becalm the bowlers in an unbroken stand of 153.
“Badger’s been absolutely exceptional in that slip cordon for the last couple of years,” Collingwood said of his errant fielder. “That could have been a pivotal moment.
“You can see what two international-class batsmen can do on a pitch where it’s pretty flat, there’s no turn and there’s no swing.”
While Compton is noted for his defensive qualities, Kieswetter is not, but he reined himself in well, allowing the anchorman to outscore him. Given 82 overs to make the second-highest winning score on this ground almost a year to the day after the first, Somerset wisely showed no intention of chasing it.
So two games Durham have bossed ended with honours equal.
“We’re playing good cricket, not excellent cricket,” was Collingwood’s verdict. “We are putting teams under pressure for long periods, but we are just not quite finishing them off.
“We didn’t score anywhere near where we should have in the first innings. We batted okay but I thought we could have got up to 350 or 400.
“I’m enjoying the positiveness in our batting and I think we can take that to the next level. But I don’t want that to be an excuse for not making big totals. David Warner, for example, plays positively but he still makes big hundreds because he has that determination.
“I think we do miss a Stokesey (Ben Stokes) spell or a Mark Wood spell because they do give you x-factor when it comes to the crunch. The guys have been building pressure with partnerships but sometimes you do need that real one spell that takes the game away from the opposition. We just haven’t quite had that.
“So far we haven’t had a hundred or a five-fer, so we need those match-winning performances.”