Michael Richardson already a winner as Durham draw grows more likely

Whether Durham can claim a win from this top-of-the-Championship encounter or not, Michael Richardson will return home a winner

Michael Richardson of Durham in action
Michael Richardson of Durham in action

Today should go a long way towards deciding if one of the biggest County Championship crowds in years will have an exciting finish or a damp squib to look forward to on Saturday, but Michael Richardson has ensured he at least will leave Scarborough a winner.

Though far too diplomatic to say so, it has been a frustrating season for the South African.

In the winter he was persuaded to put the wicketkeeping gloves to one side and concentrate on retraining himself to be a No.3 batsmen. The implied deal was that the slot he ended last year in would be his for the start of this.

Richardson signed a new contract then spent most of the first half of the campaign on the sidelines, most of the second batting at eight.

But two half-centuries and yesterday’s 102 surely guaranteed him the No.5 slot Ben Stokes will vacate to play for England over the next fortnight.

At the start of the day the expectation was that Paul Collingwood would be Durham’s third centurion, but on 81 he played across a ball which kept a fraction low, and was lbw to Ryan Sidebottom, leaving Richardson to bat with the tail.

His response was a maiden First-Class century, excluding debutants the sixth career-best performance by a Durham player in seven days of cricket. They are finding form and confidence at the right time.

When he lost Mark Wood, the last of Durham’s all-rounders – picking out Jack Brooks at cover after continuing the trend of old team-mates feasting off Liam Plunkett – Richardson was 33 not out. He added 74 with Jamie Harrison, but was spooked by the appearance of Chris Rushworth with 23 more needed.

“I wanted to make it my responsibility and take a few risks rather than just ticking over the strike,” Richardson said, showing the diplomacy that got his dad Dave the job of chief executive of the International Cricket Council. In plain English, he decided to get his hundred before Rushworth got out.

The first time Richardson tried to launch Kane Williamson over long-on Gary Ballance looked to have a good chance as he chased it from mid-on, but the ball just kept going.

He executed the shot better to reach 100, but mistimed his attempted hat-trick two balls later, and the innings ended on 573.

Durham’s biggest total since a purple patch in May 2011 painted a picture of a pitch that was not so much batsman-friendly as positively amorous.

The third of Wood’s fours in Plunkett’s first over of the day was the cruellest, cheekily guiding wide of the slips.

To see Harrison so comfortably make his career-best score gave an ominous impression for those hoping for an exciting finish.

Like a number of his team-mates, Harrison got off the mark by being gifted a four by Adil Rashid. He leaned back on a short ball and pulled in front of square for four.

A wide ball from Plunkett was driven nicely behind point, a straight drive befitting a specialist batsmen.

It was a shame it ended so messily, Jonny Bairstow running him out at the non-striker’s end as he and Richardson dithered.

In the second half of last season Durham relied on old-fashioned virtues of line and length for wickets. With Wood, Stokes and Scott Borthwick to call on, their attack is now better suited to conjuring up wickets on this year’s flatter pitches.

With Yorkshire still 242 runs from avoiding the follow-on, this game is not yet doomed to the draw which would favour the Riversiders more than their hosts.

But in compiling 182-3, the home batsmen have made the pitch look as flat as Durham’s did.

Collingwood rotated bowlers furiously in search of a breakthrough, but Yorkshire and Kane Williamson in particular were not about to be frightened into submission by the huge number needed just to ensure Durham bat again.

Wood’s extra pace and Stokes’ speed and reverse swing could be useful weapons over the next two days, but Borthwick’s leg-spin should be much more important.

It needed the outstanding moment of the match – a full length, two-handed fourth-slip catch by Stokes – just to take a wicket with the new ball.

By the end of this game on a pitch that is scuffing up, Durham might regret not selecting Ryan Buckley to give Borthwick some support.

The question then would be who to leave out – Richardson the centurion, or Harrison less than a week after his career-best.

Rashid had produced a beauty to Wood, turning and bouncing past the edge, but little else in 25 overs. Instantly Borthwick looked more effective.

His second ball leapt off the surface for Phil Jaques – slightly fortunate to have made it that far – to bat-pad to Will Smith.

There were still the four-balls that come with leg-spinners, especially those as raw as Borthwick, but less than from Rashid, and with more threat to counter-act it.

Harrison helped him out by nipping a ball into Andrew Gale’s pads but Williamson did not, threatening to follow up his Yorkshire debut duck with a century in his second innings.

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