The race for a top-two berth takes a statistical turn as Notts bat first at the Riverside
Nottinghamshire 312 for 9 (Patterson-White 66*, Slater 60, Clarke 48, Raine 3-54, Rushworth 3-68) vs Durham
Durham unveiled what were thought to be the shortest boundaries ever seen for a Championship match at Emirates Riverside, in a desperate gambit to gain as many batting bonus points as possible to maximise their chances of a top-two finish in the first phase of the competition. Even the less observant spectators, who wouldn’t notice if there were two balls on the field, looked askance and wondered what was going on. There is no cricket structure ever invented that does not ultimately surrender to the Stattos. No wonder people are watching the football.
Despite boasting one of the biggest playing surfaces in the country, the boundary rope was brought in to reduce the playing dimensions to 60 metres on both sides. As skulduggery goes, Durham’s gambit was both legal and logical, but it did strengthen the case for all those who would prefer the bonus points system to be scrapped.
The artifice concerned the relative position of the second-placed club, Warwickshire, who took a nine-point advantage into their final match at Worcestershire. In this regard, it gets more complicated. Trigger warning: the next paragraph contains arithmetical discussion and may require concentration.
With a win worth 16 points, and a draw worth eight, if Durham gain more bonus points than Warwickshire they can overhaul that nine point-deficit. In other words, even if they only draw against Notts, but haul in more bonus points, they can still potentially finish in the top two if Warwickshire lose. (That appears to be unlikely but you never know).
To continue: with bonus points weighted towards batting (five of the eight are available for scores above 400) the best way of nailing bonus points was to maximise first-innings runs. On a relaid square where Durham have only made 400 once this season, the club has calculated that by adopting short boundaries it will artificially boost first-innings scores.
As the most northerly county, playing on a difficult batting square, with normally big boundaries, Durham have to work harder for their runs; the bonus-point system, over the course of time, puts them at a disadvantage. Therefore, they might argue their chicanery is merely an attempt to balance things up a little. It was still a bit tasteless for all that.
(While that paragraph was being written, TV Breaking News coverage showed the England squad en route to Wembley for the European Championship final. A journey down a motorway has not received such extensive coverage since the world watched a low-speed police chase of OJ Simpson’s getaway car 27 years ago. Even the sight of a team bus occasionally changing lane was arguably more exciting than Durham’s bonus-point tactics).
Raine judged the surface as comparable to the Derbyshire game earlier in the season where Durham did achieve that 400 only for the match to be drawn.
At 276 for 8, Notts were in danger of missing one of those aforementioned batting points, but Stuart Broad stuck around long enough for 300 to be reached before popping the next ball to mid-off. Notts could have declared between those two incidents to deny Durham a bowling point, but did not. There may be powerful arguments on both sides: leave it with you.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps