Filling Ben Stokes’ boots is a two-man job, but in Mark Wood Durham at least have someone capable of compensating for the loss of his bowling.
This is Wood’s third game since injuring his side on England Lions’ winter tour of Sri Lanka, and although there were promising signs at Hove, it was the first time he has really looked the part.
The matches against Yorkshire and Sussex did not go to plan, with both opponents amassing huge first-innings scores. At Hove in particular, Wood – earmarked as a strike bowler – was forced to do a holding job as Graham Onions and Usman Arshad suffered back injuries.
Yesterday, though, he felt the benefit.
“I didn’t feel at my best in the last couple of games,” he said after his 5-37. “I think I needed those first two games to get that rhythm I needed.”
Coming off nine paces, Wood generated serious speed. It was far too much for Somerset’s Craig Kieswetter and Jamie Overton, who lost their middle stumps to yorkers.
His re-emergence is important in its own right and will attract the attention of England’s selectors, who love anyone with a bit of pace.
No bowler who has taken four five-wicket hauls in only 16 First-Class appearances is to be sniffed at, and without Stokes – who to all intents and purposes mothballed his Durham career with his outstanding performances in Australia this winter – Wood is the only seamer who can give them something really special when the ball is not swinging.
That much has been shown on the flat pitches Durham have floundered on while Stokes’ wrist has been recovering from his run-in with a West Indian hurt locker.
Yesterday it was swinging, so Wood was more deadly still.
Stokes plays for the second team today in back-to-back Twenty20 friendlies against Derbyshire at Brandon, and a return to frontline duties at Trent Bridge is probable.
“In my eyes he is not far off being fit to play,” was the verdict of second-team coach Alistair Maiden.
It will, though, be only a cameo before being called into the squad for England’s first Test of the summer. Durham have got to get used to life without Stokes and Wood is a solution until the Three Lions get their claws into him.
Although Chris Rushworth has assumed leadership of Durham’s attack in Onions’ absence, Wood was their go-to-man yesterday.
Wood failed to take a wicket before lunch as he and Jamie Harrison were denied their dues for some good bowling. Harrison took the wicket of Johann Myburgh in the 15 minutes before a brief shower – the only one of the day despite a pessimistic weather forecast. He owed it to a good low, diving catch by Paul Collingwood at slip but the captain also missed a more routine effort, head high, with sufficient time to see it, when Alviro Petersen had 30. It cost 48 valuable runs.
Keaton Jennings ought to have had a wicket with his first ball, edged to third slip by James Hildreth when only two were in.
But the good bowling of the morning was rewarded in the afternoon – instantly.
Rushworth strangled Hildreth from the session’s opening delivery to kick off a sequence of 3-6 and 4-22.
Peter Trego quickly followed Kieswetter, nicking Rushworth onto his stumps, and Alfonso Thomas was lbw when the seamer nipped one back into him.
For Durham, batting had been easiest when the Overton twins were bowling, and Somerset’s batsmen looked most comfortable when Craig was alongside Petersen.
The South African’s two huge sixes over long-on off Harrison showed his determination to counter-attack and it took another good Collingwood catch – again off the left-armer – to remove him 22 short of a century.
Craig Overton was still more aggressive, lingering for only 52 deliveries to make his 45 not out.
There were a few good shots and the odd outrageous one, most notably a forearm smash after ducking into a Rushworth short ball.
Neither Overton nor Petersen tucked into Wood, who conceded just two an over.
His pace was too much for George Dockrell, caught at gully top-edging, and for Craig’s brother Jamie, in a neat replay of Kieswetter’s dismissal.
Although Jamie only made one, he did not leave without doing some damage. Borthwick put down a low slip catch before he had scored, and immediately left the field to have his right hand x-rayed. He will be assessed this morning.
Apparently it was not the spinning finger he chipped a bone in dropping a catch only a fortnight earlier, but it is still a worry.
Although Durham would have been wishing it came 30 runs or so sooner, it was not a bad time to wrap up the innings.
By the time the sides re-emerged, it was under blue skies and bright sunshine – neither previously much of a feature in the game.
Jennings went early, hammering a pull straight at square leg.
Mark Stoneman has had a famine-or-feast early season, and despite the conditions, this could again have been the latter.
Craig Overton put down a regulation catch when Stoneman had 10, then his third highest Championship score this year. To rub salt in the wound, he edged successive deliveries from the 20-year-old through the slips for four, before being dropped by Petersen, moving inside the ball at slip, on 38. When Petersen did hold on, umpire Nick Cook deemed the ball Dockrell spat up at him had not found the edge.
If Stoneman can make Somerset pay the full price – he is already 60 not out – Durham, despite the awfulness of their opening-day batting, will be in with a good chance of a first Championship win of 2014.
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