One of the world’s most boring records takes Essex closer to shot at title defence
Essex 182 and 301 (Wheater 81, ten Doeschate 55, Raine 5-64) beat Durham 99 (Cook 4-38, Porter 3-27, Siddle 3-29) and 189 (Lees 48, Porter 4-31, Siddle 3-47) by 195 runs
As far as the County Championship is concerned, the relevance of Essex’s 189-win victory over Durham is that, with time running out, it has energised the defence of their title. But the ramifications go far wider, especially for cricket statisticians, who can be guaranteed to be in a stage of high excitement after the contest set a new record for the number of lbws in a first-class match in England.
As many as 19 lbws were awarded by umpires David Millns and James Middlebrook at Chester-le-Street and it should be said in these days of video replays that, for the neutral observer, the overwhelming majority looked bang to rights.
Quite whether the Maharajah of Patiala, the last of the nine Maharajas, was so full of statistical anticipation after Delhi’s win (a world record at the time) sadly goes unrecorded, but it is likely it passed him by, on accounts of it being Christmas and the World Wide Web not quite being a thing. Interestingly, he did not bat in the first innings, but claimed a half-century batting at No. 11 second time around.
Six years ago, the Daily Express suggested that Gareth Sanders, a cleaning company manager from Bristol, had broken the world’s most boring world record by ironing for more than 80 hours. If you think that’s boring, imagine how the person felt who had to check that he was doing it properly.
Statisticians can cavil all they like, but for two sessions this England (and Wales) record moved closer in an atmosphere of unremitting tedium. Durham needed 385 to win, they had never successfully chased more than 318 when they beat Nottinghamshire 20 years ago, and they had never conceded a chase of 335 here. But they had a new captain, new resolve and a relaid square on which Derbyshire had blocked out for a draw in April by losing only five wickets on the final day.
It is possible to have sympathy for the groundstaff, who needed strong April grass growth after their winter’s refurbishments but were instead treated to one of the coldest, driest Aprils on record, and also register the fact that Chester-le-Street is not providing entertaining cricket. A meteorological record has helped to bring about a cricketing record: a square bereft of pace and bounce had to start damp (hence excessive seam) before reverting to its natural state: joyless and unresponsive.
Durham acquitted themselves professionally to the task which was impressive stuff as far as professionalism goes but, as they crawled to 137 for 3 midway through the 64th over, it did not represent Bank Holiday entertainment.
Play low, however, and survival was possible. Essex attacked the stumps with unrelenting determination. It was a dirty job and someone had to do it.
Essex then closed the game out as the last seven wickets fell for 52 in 24 overs, Siddle and Porter, in particular, suddenly finding movement where there was little before.
As well as a statistician’s match, it was a coach’s match. Durham’s coach James Franklin, called the pitch “tricky”. Essex’s coach, Anthony McGrath said: “It was a very interesting game because conditions changed so much from day one” and talked about character and skill.
Bully for them. For spectators in need of entertainment after 20 months without live cricket, it was inadequate. Essex go top, at least for 24 hours, but they have played a game more. Given better pitches, this group can reach an exciting conclusion.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps