By standing at second slip all day, Scott Borthwick highlighted his importance to Durham’s attack.
If this is to be it at Wantage Road on Sunday, they will have to do the bulk of their work early.
In individual terms, almost all Durham’s players are where they need to be ahead of their County Championship opener against Northamptonshire.
All the batsman have spent significant time in the middle during pre-season, and with Graham Onions getting through 13 overs in cool, overcast conditions, all the bowlers probably have just about enough work in their legs.
The attack looks formidable when the ball is hard and shiny, but when it gets soft they must be more disciplined than destructive.
Durham’s seamers took 6-65 in the first 33 overs of Durham University’s innings, but were only able to add three more in the next 37 – two at the end bowled by Mark Stoneman for the first time in First-Class cricket. Jamie Harrison showed his continuing improvement with 3-33, Chris Rushworth is the sort of hard-working seamer every county needs, Usman Arshad a more-than-useful second-change and while Onions did nothing yesterday to alarm the Northants batsmen in wait, he remains the best bowler on the circuit.
The exercise was just about getting overs in after a busy winter was followed by an inactive pre-season.
Coach Jon Lewis is pretty confident Borthwick’s side strain will have recovered sufficiently for him to bowl in Northampton, and it will be significant if he does. Otherwise Durham might again find the going tough as the ball gets old.
Paul Collingwood likes to talk about “maverick” bowlers with “X-factor”. Pace and reverse swing put Ben Stokes’ and Mark Wood in that category, as does Borthwick’s leg-spin. Gareth Breese, yesterday’s spinner, is steadier but less able to make things happen.
Wood makes his first pre-season appearance at Chester-le-Street today, for the seconds in a 45-over game – but only as a batsman.
Being made to work hard for their wickets yesterday, by Cameron Steel in particular, is just what the professionals needed from the students.
As he watched partners come and go, Steel demonstrated a, well... steel, that could serve him well.
Born in San Fransisco and a former Western Australia Under-17s captain, the 18-year-old appeared to be picked for last month’s Combined Universities tour of the Middle East more on the strength of his leg-spin, but his 205-minute knock as partners came and went was his most impressive contribution to this game. There was disappointment Down Under when Steel opted to try to qualify for England and if he continues his progress, his foreign accent might not be the only feature which fits the bill as an England cricketer.
Fresh from 44 on his First-Class debut at Derby last week, ducking into a bouncer from Arshad on 19 did nothing to unsettle the right-handed opener and his only slight scare came when Borthwick’s diving effort at second slip failed to hold on to an edge.
It was a half-chance, but Borthwick is the sort of fielder who takes more than his fair share.
Harrison thought he had found the teenager’s glove with a bouncer as a maiden half-century approached, but umpire Jeff Evans did not.
It took Breese to end his marathon 68, edging as he played back.
By then Harrison had demonstrated why his status as a fringe player has gone the way of his fringe.
He found Chaitanya Bishnoi’s edge for the first of four Phil Mustard catches, then four deliveries later the low bounce the Chester-le-Street square occasionally throws up.
That, and a bit of nip in, did for Will Jenkins. Anish Paraam edged behind trying to drive a full ball.
Rushworth had set the ball rolling by trapping Hugo Darby lbw as he pushed forward, and a bit of Arshad inswing sent Chris Purshouses’s leg stump flying.
Medium-pacer Keaton Jennings even chipped with his fifth First-Class wicket, clipping Freddie van den Bergh’s bails to end the morning session with Durham’s sixth scalp.
The afternoon was a different story, Durham’s victory hopes frustrated by a 35-minute rain delay and the added Steele of Oliver, who slog-swept consecutive Breese overs for sixes, and cut Arshad to the ropes.
Breese had Steel caught behind, then sneaked one through Liam Dixon’s defences but Stoneman guided matters to a meandering conclusion.