As soon as Kumar Sangakkara left the Durham dressing room journalists and microphones swarmed around him.
“He’s only got 30!” coach Jon Lewis protested, but that is the kind of superstar the Sri Lanka is. As he talked, Scott Borthwick was able to quietly slip out, only a couple of North East media men paying attention.
Sangakkara has been good for Borthwick.
The Sunderland all-rounder’s dressing room nickname is “Badger” – cricket-speak for a fanatic. With Sangakkara, Durham now have a cete.
While the 36-year-old was attuning his game to English conditions, the man 12 years his junior quietly compiled some much-needed runs.
With only three wickets from four matches this season, Borthwick’s leg-spin is yet to have an impact. Despite what many beyond the county seem to think, Borthwick is a batsman first and foremost. He travelled to the south coast as the only Durham batsman – Sangakkara apart – without a half century in the defence of their County Championship title.
He would probably have been delighted if you had told him he would almost play as well as Sangakkara on his Durham debut against Yorkshire last week, but the catches they dropped outweighed the positives of their meagre contributions.
Borthwick’s batting was very good at Hove yesterday. It started seven deliveries into the morning – Sussex had declared overnight on 505-9 – and Durham were soon 34-2, needing another 322 to avoid the follow-on. Even on a flat pitch with a short boundary, it was a tall order.
Borthwick instantly looked the part. A straight drive to double his score showed as much.
There was one false shot – nearly chopping on as he inside-edged James Anyon on 33 – but even his edge when newly arrived at the crease was guided down.
Two balls after his lucky escape, he plonked Anyon into the top tier of the leg-side stand for six. A cover drive from the bowler’s next over was elegant, the cut behind square to bring up his 50 delicate.
He slowed down after that as the game became bitty on a frustrating day of four rain breaks, but his watchfulness was no bad thing.
“Scott’s a great batsman to watch, very attacking, very positive and busy,” gushed Sangakkara. “That’s what you want from a No.3. He always looks to dominate and he did just that. There’s some very good players in that dressing room and Scott’s a good example.”
Not that Borthwick’s game was faultless. Poor calling did for Keaton Jennings, a useful man to have when batting to save the game, and very nearly Sangakkara. Jennings departed for 13 when Borthwick called him for a two that was optimistic. It was ridiculously reckless considering Mark Stoneman had edged Anyon’s first ball of the game to Ben Brown.
“There’s not much to say,” Borthwick commented. “I apologised to him and said I’d buy him dinner.
“As soon as I hit it I called two. I called for the second and I didn’t think he was coming so I shouted no. The next thing I knew he was behind me. It’s one of them things that happens in cricket. I’ve apologised to him.
“For the first 10, 20 minutes after the run-out I was a bit heartbroken for Keaton but it’s cricket, you’ve got to move on.”
Luke Wright nearly repeated the trick twice while Sangakkara was still in single figures, narrowly missing the stumps at either end.
It was not quite on a par with Sangakkara’s display against Yorkshire – scratchier than a pair of sackcloth underpants – but the left-hander’s regularly-interrupted innings was far from convincing. His second boundary, driven through the covers, and his last, a square drive the delivery after being struck in the unmentionables will look good on the highlights reel, but there was precious little other material for it. Second slip Michael Yardy got both hands to an edge, but could not hold on. Ed Joyce also put him down.
Durham should note the value of hanging on when things are not going your way.
That, in essence, was the story of Durham’s day. Depleted by injury and constantly banging their heads against lifeless pitches, life as champions has not been a barrel of laughs, but the only possible response is to keep battling through it.
Borthwick and Sangakkara at least showed the appetite for that.
Encouragingly, Borthwick has also shown great hunger to learn from Sangakkara. His two-match Durham career will be little more than a well-paid net to get ready to face England, but if Borthwick is better at absorbing information than the Hove outfield has been in taking on water, the Three Lions could yet be thankful for this stint. Durham certainly will be.
“He’s been a massive help to me and the other batters, especially the younger ones,” Borthwick said. “He’s taken me out for dinner and talked to me about batting, and batting against spin. It’s a joy to have him in the dressing room.
“During the rain breaks he’s chatting about cricket all the time. He’s a cricket badger, he absolutely loves it. It’s perfect for me because I’m similar.
“He’s been fantastic these last couple of weeks. Hopefully he can get some runs today. He’s easy to talk to. I love learning from him.”
As Sangakkara told the massed ranks, “It’s just an exchange of ideas. Everyone’s willing to share.”