Taunton is notorious on the county cricket circuit.
The home of Somerset boasts a pitch which has young bowlers waking up in a cold sweat, and their cannier older colleagues with stiff hamstrings they never knew they had. In the opening matches of the season, wickets have come at 50 apiece.
The pitch Durham played on yesterday was not a typical Taunton featherbed.
There was green in the pitch and grey in the sky, with the players coming off three times for rain, and playing through squally showers on a few other occasions.
Somerset’s bowlers, none more so than Alfonso Thomas with 5-41, made good use of the conditions.
No self-respecting county cricket team should be bowled out for 155 after choosing to bat first at Taunton. It was a bad day for the champions to produce their worst batting display this season.
Durham have learnt in the past that an emerald tinge to the pitch does not always indicate the life the bowlers have been praying for, and when he called correctly at the toss, Paul Collingwood (below) decided to bat, as Marcus Trescothick was hoping to.
The thinking was obvious. Bat first, bat once and bat big so Somerset’s bowlers were the ones left toiling on a flat pitch and Durham’s attack – minus Graham Onions – had scoreboard pressure on its side.
They made a right old mess of it.
Breaking their sequence of draws was always the idea, however unlikely it seemed here, but Durham went about it completely the wrong way.
They would have expected to lose a couple of wickets in the first session, but were 24-4 in its opening hour.
Mark Stoneman started things off, driving at a Thomas ball which moved in to dismantle his stumps. After his excellent century against Yorkshire, Stoneman’s next best County Championship score this season is 11.
Shots like that before he gets his eye in are not going to help. Keaton Jennings looked much more at ease, never more so than with his last scoring shot, a cover-driven four.
But Thomas got the ball and James Hildreth to leap up from the next delivery, first slip taking an excellent catch from a surprised left-hander.
Michael Richardson had the opposite problem, lbw pulling at a ball not getting up as much as he expected.
Phil Mustard, back up to five in the order after Kumar Sangakkara’s brief Durham career, pushed at his first delivery and was caught behind.
Paul Collingwood and Scott Borthwick counter-punched well, taking advantage of the introduction of identical twins Craig and Jamie Overton. But Thomas served up a beauty to clip Collingwood’s off-stump on his return after lunch, and the slide resumed.
Like his revitalised captain, Borthwick looked the part, though batting was not exactly serene.
He nearly claimed another run-out victim, Collingwood stranded at the non-striker’s end on eight while Craig Overton threw to the other.
A ball fended off from him in 36 went just out of the reach of Marcus Trescothick, in the unusual position for a captain of short leg.
Once Collingwood departed, statuesque as the ball nipped past his defensive pose, Borthwick simply had to stay in.
Five overs later he put the ball straight down the throat of Johann Myburgh, on the deep mid-wicket boundary. Even for a sucker-punch, it really sucked.
In his first Championship appearance for 661 days and with Ben Stokes simultaneously continuing his comeback in a second-team Twenty20 double-header in Nottingham, Gordon Muchall did his best. Coming in at seven with less than 100 on the board, he edged just in front of Trescothick – then at slip – on eight. Another reared up at him from Thomas on 11, but he played it down well.
He even followed the lead of First-Class debutant Ryan Pringle in hitting George Dockrell for six over long-on, those his was straighter and less meaty than the burly all-rounder’s.
So his departure for 30 was disappointingly soft – “lackadaisical,” he called it, driving at the Irish spinner and looping a catch to slip. Pringle and Mark Wood had gone by then – the former caught low by Nick Compton close in at cover, the latter lbw with his feet in concrete.
It took just four balls to tempt Chris Rushworth into flashing at a wide one, and the innings was over for just 155.
Durham needed something special, and ought to have had their hosts two wickets down halfway through the opening over. Rushworth around the wicket had Trescothick jabbing to third slip to its first ball, while Compton pulled the third right between mid-on Wood and mid-wicket Jennings.
Fortunately – surprisingly – he was unable to cash in, hanging his bat out to first-change Wood’s opening delivery.
Going into the game with an average of 86 against them, Compton is a player Durham probably expected to do well.
Johann Myburgh was not. Released after half a season where he failed to make a Championship appearance, Myburgh was pushed up to open with Chris Jones dropped, and drove magnificently.
He was fortunate Durham made a mess when he was stranded mid-pitch on 23. Jamie Harrison threw to the wrong, nearer, end from fine leg and rather than lobbing the ball gently to Wood over the stumps, Mustard had a shy himself. He missed, and the bowler was unable to collect.
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