Michael Richardson has done his best to make integrating a superstar into Durham’s team as awkward as possible this week, but theirs is a club more about coping without them.
Unbeknownst to head coach Jon Lewis, Kumar Sangakkara announced yesterday afternoon he is coming to the North East to play “two or three” County Championship matches. Meanwhile, the man keeping his seat warm was doing an excellent job.
Richardson is filling the No.4 slot that is a natural habitat for the world’s second-best Test batsman when he arrives this week or next. But a second 50 in the match – and with the potential to become the first batsman to make a century – means Sangakkara’s debut will not be entirely straight-forward.
“We’ll squeeze him in!” joked Lewis last night when the point was put to him.
It will probably just mean Richardson dropping down a spot and Phil Mustard temporarily returning to No.7 in place of Gareth Breese. It is a nice decision to have to make.
The champions will have another this morning, effectively 252-5. It took 103.1 overs to bowl Northamptonshire out yesterday and they will want time to do so again without posting a total small enough to be chased down.
“We’re in a good position,” Lewis commented. “It’s a hard-work wicket for batsmen and bowlers.
“It doesn’t really come onto the bat that well so free-scoring is difficult but it doesn’t offer the bowlers a great deal. It hasn’t turned yet and there’s no seam movement at all.
“We’ll look at how Northants went about their innings, so we’ve got a little bit more of an idea about their batters and the way they go about scoring. It’s quite short in one corner so it makes it difficult to judge what’s gettable.”
Durham at least have another emerging talent and it was fitting that Newcastle United’s chief scout Graham Carr watched Usman Arshad take a career-best 4-78.
Carr’s job is basically to unearth unheard of players to replace the superstars Mike Ashley sells on. In his own way, Arshad is Durham’s equivalent of the man Carr finds to replace Yohan Cabaye.
The circle of life at Chester-le-Street has taken another turn, with Ben Stokes the latest to graduate from Durham’s academy to England’s Test team. Just before he made the step up, Arshad announced himself as a successor-in-waiting. Like Stokes – born in New Zealand, raised in Cumbria – Arshad is not from Durham, but was scouted in a neighbouring county by cricket’s answer to Carr, Geoff Cook. Not wanted by Yorkshire, the Bingley-born all-rounder showed himself to be a player of real promise at the end of last season. Averages of 28 with the bat and 15 with the ball – albeit from only five Championship matches – were a pretty good start, and he has resumed in similar fashion. Extremely confident with the bat – albeit not for long – on Monday, Arshad more than did his job as Durham’s fourth seamer. His 4-78 was yet another career-best. With fellow change bowler Jamie Harrison he allowed Durham to claim a 74-run first-innings lead.
Thanks to Arshad the incredible sub-plot of this match continues. Richardson’s was its tenth half-century, with no one making 100.
Matt Spriegel ought to have. The left-hander endured a miserable 2013 but was in fluent form yesterday. Consecutive fours – the first guide behind square, the second beautifully driven – took him to 97 but he got carried away and wafted at Arshad from the next delivery to be caught behind. “I think his eyes lit up,” said the modest bowler.
That came during a spell of six wickets for 122 – hardly a calamitous collapse but no mean feat on an unresponsive strip.
The hope had been that Scott Borthwick’s leg-spin might overcome it. He made an instant impact, having Rob Newton caught pushing at his third ball, but that was it.
Borthwick might have had Spriegel in his next over, but short leg Keaton Jennings was unable to react quickly enough when the poke flew his way. The left-hander scored another 64 before Arshad removed him.
By then Arshad had also accounted for Andrew Hall and David Willey, two men with the ability to score quick runs stopped in single figures.
Durham’s lead allowed them to play with freedom, even after again losing two quick wickets.
Paul Collingwood was dismissive of Hall, swivelling consecutive pulls, and hit James Middlebrook for six before becoming his fourth victim.
Despite the off-spinner’s success, there has been little spin on this pitch during the first three days. Unless that changes, Durham will find winning on it difficult.