Durham marginally in front as County are forced to grind away

It’s been 10 years in coming but Division One cricket is back at the County Ground.

By Alec Swann
Sunday, 13th April 2014, 6:08 pm
Muhammad Azharullah opened the County's account for the season when he bowled Durham opener Mark Stoneman in the fourth over of the day
Muhammad Azharullah opened the County's account for the season when he bowled Durham opener Mark Stoneman in the fourth over of the day

The country’s best team in the shape of defending champions Durham are in town and if Northamptonshire didn’t know what to expect from their foray into the top flight, they do now.

What they will be aware of is that there won’t be any surprises but that there is toil ahead.

However, if they stick to the task as they did on day one of their LV= County Championship campaign, then they will always be in with a shout.

And after 96 overs on a pleasant spring day - look on the bright side, it could be snowing given recent history - although slightly behind on the balance of play, the hosts will be relatively pleased with their day’s efforts as Durham closed on 265-5.

The morning session, after the visitors had won the toss and elected to go in first, produced two hours of cricket that would have appealed more to the purist than those in search of boundary-laden fare.

It was attritional, it was hard-fought but it was absorbing in its own way.

A turgid surface which offered a smidgen of assistance but no pace to work with didn’t really suit anybody and made watchfulness as opposed to adventure the order of the day.

That played into Keaton Jennings’ hands as the opener, who saw Mark Stoneman cleaned up offering no shot to Muhammad Azharullah and Scott Borthwick hit in front by Andrew Hall, survived in a state of comfort to the interval.

A scoreboard reading 70-2 was a fair reflection of proceedings but it livened up slightly in the afternoon as the ball softened.

Having passed 50, Jennings squandered the opportunity to advance his score into the higher figures as he loosely wafted at Maurice Chambers to provide Hall with a catch at first slip and the bowler with his first scalp in County colours.

But Phil Mustard, who generally doesn’t hang around, added some impetus and with Michael Richardson unfussilly going about his business, a decent platform was being established.

It was difficult not to come to the conclusion that the attack, without any real speed or the left-arm variety David Willey - playing as a batsman only after David Sales was deemed unfit - normally provides, had a distinct lack of variety, especially on pitches that are quite flat.

But an attitude of plugging away to grind teams down worked well last year and unless an overseas addition who offers something different is somehow plucked out of the hat in the near future, the same approach will have to suffice.

There was a lull of sorts as the time for the second new ball neared and it may have had something to do with a moment of rashness from Richardson who, when on 80, needlessly tried to manufacture a cut off James Middlebrook and only succeeded in under edging to David Murphy.

As expected it was taken straight away and it did the trick as Chambers forced Paul Collingwood to edge a flat-footed prod to third slip.

The remaining hour passed fairly serenely as Gareth Breese and Mustard, who was rarely troubled throughout, added a shade under 50 to the tally with the power to add come tomorrow morning.