Hosts fluff their lines in response to meagre first innings as 16 wickets fall in a day
Durham 58 for 6 (Cook 3-20, Siddle 2-15) trail Essex 182 (Pepper 92, Rushworth 4-32, Raine 4-45) by 124 runs
It was the last ball of the day that really rubbed it in. A ball that said that Essex would take some beating from here. A ball that said their Championship defence was growing in intensity. A ball that said that Durham might be about to suffer more anguish after their heartache in the same fixture last month.
David Bedingham had been Durham’s highly-fancied representative in the race to be first to 1,000 runs before it became apparent that the only winner would be a sour-faced English Spring. And when Sam Cook shaded a delivery away from him to strike his off stump, and held out his fists in exultation, it already had the makings of a decisive moment.
Bedingham’s wicket – Cook’s third – had added impact because he actually hit the stumps. As many as 11 batters fell leg before as the ball nipped around, all five of the other Durham wickets to fall, which has only been surpassed on the first day of a Championship match – an extraordinary day at Luton in 1995. It can all become a bit repetitive, especially if somebody close to you wants to discuss the intricacies of the lbw Law. On days like this, umpires deserve double pay.
You couldn’t argue with any of them, but people do. Durham’s captain, Scott Borthwick, appeared to contest his even though replays suggested Cook had him bang to rights, and emerged from his crouch to gesture at the umpire. He appeared to be suggesting the ball had done too much (it hadn’t), but he could have been signalling “can you bring me the bill please?” – a practice gesture perhaps for the evening ahead now that the restaurants have reopened.
Borthwick has had a lean time with the bat since he made a century against Essex at Chelmsford – all to no avail – but he has supervised a sturdy Durham recovery which even if they lost here (players must not give up, but journalists are obliged to forecast) would still leave them in contention when the final two rounds take place in July.
There has been no finer recovery in this Championship season than Essex’s victory over Durham in that fixture in mid-April. Blown away for 96 and 163 runs adrift on first innings, they still triumphed by 43 runs. Durham, as hard as they tried to block it out, endured the creeping realisation for several hours that all would not turn out well.
Six weeks on, and Group One remains in the balance. Without that victory, Essex would have been out of contention. Despite that defeat, Durham have proved a resilient bunch. Essex, who began three points ahead of them in second place, but who have only three matches left to Durham’s four, have reached a pivotal point in their Championship defence – and they have the leaders, Nottinghamshire, up next.
Scourge of Durham in that first meet-up was Simon Harmer, whose match return of 10 for 136 suggested that once more county batters would collapse before him. But a decidedly cold April has been followed by a markedly wet May. Now the seamers hold sway and everybody is expected to be permanently menacing. Half an hour without a wicket, with 20 added, is a recovery.
Virtually the first warm weather of the summer sucked the dampness from the ground, the ball seamed and the relaid Riverside square is so uneven that wicketkeepers are learning the art of stopping the ball with their ankles. The square has been known to go flat this season, but it would be a surprise if it did so in the next couple of days.
Pepper was also a victim for Rushworth, so annoyed to be hit in front that he walked off instantly. He survived a couple of early lbw appeals, but it did not inhibit his off-side drives and cuts when the opportunity presented itself and he played all of them with a flourish. When he fell, Essex capsized, losing their last five wickets for three runs in 17 balls.
If Rushworth had been around in 1659, he would assuredly have led the Rising of the North and it would probably have got further than Bramham Moor, with the Earl of Sussex imagining that he was about to emerge victorious and then falling lbw.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps