If he had not been a Durham player, Keaton Jennings might be finishing this season playing second-team cricket. Few counties field a specialist batsman at eight, as the Riversiders have with Michael Richardson.
Yesterday they made small but important instalments towards repaying that faith against Sussex.
Since Jennings’ maiden County Championship century at home to Derbyshire in early July, he has been an ever-present in the title-winning side, despite averaging just 13.
But when Durham see a talent they believe in, they stick by him. The two men Jennings sandwiches in the Riversiders’ top order – Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick – are proof of that.
Borthwick won the competition to be Durham’s Championship top-scorer this season but both have over 1,000 runs in the competition which for anyone who plays 50% of their cricket at Chester-le-Street is an impressive achievement.
Having a winning side makes it an awful lot easier, but Durham have kept the faith in Jennings and Richardson. Patience is a quality Jennings in particular has in abundance too, as he showed by batting all day yesterday.
His 218-run seventh-wicket partnership with Richardson – remarkably, the other son of a former South Africa wicketkeeper to make his second Championship century yesterday – may have turned a seemingly inevitable defeat into the victory Durham had targeted on the south coast.
Richardson needed the runs too. His talent is more obvious, his batting more eye-catching, but coming in as a specialist at No.8 is not a role with much job security, nor one any self-respecting professional covets. Fortunately for him, a middle-order spot is about to become vacant.
With Will Smith playing his Durham last innings yesterday, departing ingloriously by steering a wide ball to point but at least reaching 6,000 career First-Class runs first, Paul Collingwood will have one less anchorman and no No.4 next season. Jennings looks up to the first job, Richardson the second.
The generous reception Smith received as he walked off showed Durham’s supporters appreciate his fighting qualities. Jennings already has Smith’s unfailing politeness and if he fulfils his potential, will replace his cricketing qualities too.
Durham certainly needed somebody to drop anchor after their under-par performance of the first two days seeped into the third.
When Richardson came out to bat, Durham were 120-6, needing another 44 just to avoid an innings defeat.
Stoneman made just five before trying to turn Chris Jordan to leg and offering an inside edge Luke Wells, running in from mid-off, did well to take.
It looked like Durham needed someone to play as Luke Wright had in Sussex’s first innings and although Ben Stokes managed for a thrilling 45 minutes, ultimately all he and Borthwick could ultimately manage was to get out like him, their stumps demolished by low-bouncing balls.
Stokes took 15 balls to get his eye in, then went after James Anyon. His first shot was a well controlled drive through mid-off for four. The next ball was pulled through mid-on, before a repeat of the previous delivery. Two balls later he pulled a six.
From the last ball of the over he top-edged a pull but Steve Magoffin, having got both hands around the ball coming in from fine leg, dropped it.
Stokes played out a maiden from Anyon’s next over, then hit him out of the attack with 14 when he came back for more. He may have regretted it when Jordan’s first delivery as his replacement demolished his woodwork.
Either side of lunch Collingwood and Phil Mustard quickly followed, the latter startled by the pace of Jordan’s bouncer which caught his glove on its way to gully.
It looked like sooner or later Durham would be back on the bus for the marathon journey home. Sussex, for whom victory will make the difference between an unrewarded fifth place and the prize money of third, were revved up – Jordan in particular. Richardson claimed he tried to wind them up a bit more by talking “South African Geordie” to Jennings between overs.
Like Stokes, Richardson was not going to play with Jennings’ caution, as the six he fetched from outside off-stump to get off the mark showed.
He could have perished on 12, an uncontrolled pull just going out of reach of Magoffin. Nine short of a century, he was fortunate a pull dropped just in front of Magoffin, running straighter at mid-on. On 119 slip Matt Prior could only tip a flashing drive over the bar.
If watching Richardson was occasionally seat-of-the-pants stuff, watching Jennings was hard work. Mired on 57 for 22 agonising deliveries, it was as reassuringly boring as Smith’s match-winning effort at Trent Bridge in April. But the nervous 90s so painfully obvious in both innings against Derbyshire – he made 93 first time up – had gone.
The lovely cut in front of square for four off the rapid Jordan was ample evidence of that. Five balls later he fended a spitting ball down behind square, and ran the single which brought up his 218-ball century.
Richardson was just as assured in reaching his 100, with consecutive fours to Jordan’s first over with the second bew ball.
He might have had a second six pulling to fine leg, but the fielder said the ball bounced, and did when he lifted a pull into the Players Club seats wide of mid-on. Another was pulled onto the roof of the adjacent hospitality boxes. Eventually he tired, furious with himself when he finally did pick out Magoffin at mid-on for 129.
Usman Arshad, Jennings’ housemate for the last three years, upped the tempo again, his 38 not out from 23 balls extending the lead beyond 200 with the prospect of more to come tomorrow.
On a pitch Durham’s batsmen made look lifelessly flat after lunch, they should need quite a few more to build a winning lead but after the wins at Derby and Scarborough, there may be room for one last hurrah.