FITTINGLY, the cricket was a real battle at Chester-le-Street – and not only for the players.
Once Shivnarine Chanderpaul got set at the Rose Bowl, it was looking like a futile one but it was hard not to admire those who gritted their teeth and got on with it.
Regardless of the result here, it appears Worcestershire will be celebrating on Thursday, and Durham will not be.
The relegation-threatened Pears are inching closer to safety and Chanderpaul’s Warwickshire are tightening their grip on the County Championship title.
With so much to be decided this week, Durham were hoping for blue skies and dry weather. They got both, but instead had to fight a fierce wind blowing from the pavilion to the old scoreboard.
The umpires soon gave up on heavy bails, playing without for most of the day, and wisely refused hats, sparing them the indignity of chasing them as some fielders would. Bowlers regularly had to abort run-ups and most people in the middle were blown off their feet at an inopportune moment.
By the time Durham had won the toss the tarpaulins were in the trees on the river side of the grounds. Realising they were fighting a losing battle, the groundstaff abandoned them. Sky TV took down their satellite dish, depriving armchair viewers of updates.
The tougher the conditions, the more Will Smith seems to like it. Of all the batsmen, Smith appeared to find rhythm hardest to come by, yet he scored twice as many as anyone.
Smith lost his middle stump to Kemar Roach on 66, 59 short of 1,000 runs this season, a mark only Dale Benkenstein has reached thus far for Durham. Having never made four figures in a campaign, his tally is something Durham’s former captain is acutely aware of. He deserves to get there for making a habit of innings such as this.
Smith dropped anchor in a way his former team-mate Chanderpaul, a title winner at Durham in 2008 and 2009, would have been proud of. He contributed just three to an opening stand of 41, and did not locate the boundary until the 19th over, going for a big pull at Richard Jones and seeing the ball clear the slips. He accelerated before lunch, hitting Jones off his legs, then cutting him for another four.
His eighth boundary brought up a 131-ball 50 and he faced 151 deliveries in all before being undone by a Roach yorker. Like many of the best balls, the inswinger was moving against the wind. “It’s a difficult wicket to score on, but if you get in you can tire the bowlers out and run-scoring opportunities will come along,” Smith explained. “I thought when I was out there if we got to 300 and a third batting point, that would be a decent score. Having said that, 264 is still a good score. The wicket is bowler-friendly but sometimes the ball started to swing and because the wind was so strong it sort of stopped it and almost swung two ways.”
Michael Di Venuto was also restrained until doubling his boundary count in the 15th over, but change bowlers Jones and Gareth Andrews followed Alan Richardson’s miserly approach, starting with maidens. Andrew also removed Di Venuto, the first of four leg before wickets, coming half-forward.
The number of appeals against Mark Stoneman and Phil Mustard seemed to count against them with Jeff Evans, the latter’s final ball looking too high to take the non-existent bails. Paul Collingwood walked after nicking a wind-assisted outswinger from Richardson.
Perhaps the tactics had changed by then, perhaps it was just the personnel. Blackwell and Mustard both pulled sixes, making 22 and 21 respectively.
The latter did not go before earning a bonus point, doubled when Callum Thorp hit a four over mid-off. Last man out on 264, Graham Onions set the ball rolling for some bowling points with a beauty of an outswinger Daryl Mitchell feathered.