Yorks Scarborough party scuppered
I have been watching the 2013 County Champions, these last few days.
What is not clear, following the "Scarborough Massacre", is whether that team is Yorkshire or Durham. On the evidence presented at North Marine Road, the force is with Durham and if they do go on to lift the title they will have deserved it, as they will also have survived the challenge of third-placed Sussex, home and away.
With Yorkshire also travelling to Hove, on September 11, the season is bubbling up nicely. Good finishes are becoming the norm in the Championship, at both ends of the table. I can't believe I was once sceptical about the split to two divisions.
So what did happen at sun-kissed Scarborough, then?
Firstly, a lot of people turned up, reportedly 5,700 on the second day, and almost as many on days one and three. It was wonderful to see, but there was some disgruntlement, I can tell you!
I have to sympathise. I get to see all Yorkshire's games, if I want to. While I would like to be young and have all my bodily functions in approximate working order, being able to watch cricket is some compensation. For those who need to work, reading the likes of myself telling them how good this Yorkshire side is, then turning up for their annual treat to find them … let's say, not quite so good. Yes, that would be annoying. I can see that.
Let us give all praise to Durham. They have had their share of success, these last few years, but many of those players were absent last week, permanently or otherwise: Michael Di Venuto and Dale Benkenstein, Steve Harmison and indeed Liam Plunkett, now laiking for the county of his birth; Callum Thorp and Mitch Claydon; Mark Davies and Ian Blackwell.
Paul Collingwood remains, and Phil Mustard and Will Smith. Joining them is a bunch of fearless young pretenders, mostly products of Durham's youth set-up. Mark Stoneman struck a century full of blissful timing, and Ben Stokes played a mature knock in support. With Collingwood and a young South African, Michael Richardson, also in the runs, Durham were able to post a daunting total.
The pitch was flat. It is surely no coincidence that all but one of Yorkshire's six wins have been achieved away from home. Pitches at Edgbaston and Chesterfield, Lord's and Trent Bridge, have suited our experienced seam attack. The ball has nibbled around, our lads have put it in good areas, we've set good fields, caught our catches, and there we were, top of the table.
The thing about being young is that you don't really appreciate when conditions are against you. Chris Rushworth, Jamie Harrison and Mark Wood just kept running in, 100% effort all the time. I had seen two of them before, Harrison in a 2nd XI game, but not Wood. He sets off like a sprinter or long-jumper, low, out of the blocks, then he just throws himself at the batsman. Sadly, he picked up an injury which, with Stokes' selection for England, could scupper Durham's hopes.
Stokes was, of course, the star turn. He followed up his century with some strong and brisk bowling, and got some movement too, mostly away from Yorkshire's many left-handers. The wickets he got were big wickets, at vital times. And he, like the others, kept going.
Another Durham up-and-comer is Scott Borthwick, a legspinner who bats left-handed. He played a big part in Durham's victory. Forget his second-innings runs, it was his demolition of the Yorkshire tail, especially a beautiful ball to dismiss Liam Plunkett, that ended stout resistance, to set up the easy run chase.
I watched Borthwick carefully through binoculars for a while, and he seemed to bowl only the one basic ball, with slight variations of over-spin or side-spin. One thing was for sure, he completely outbowled Adil Rashid in this match. There was some spin and bounce available, but poor Adil couldn't land anything, not in either innings.
The previous week, Yorkshire had gone to Trent Bridge and completely demolished the team I had tentatively nominated for the title, pre-season. On a pitch that started as green as, er, grass, the home bowlers sprayed it about all over the place. Adam Lyth and Rashid, with huge support from a tail, which included the returning Jonny Bairstow, posted a score which must have been 150 above par.
The Yorkshire bowlers performed with discipline, Ryan Sidebottom and Steve Patterson were outstanding, and we won by 10 wickets. Rashid's legspin got rid of the tail, and he scarcely bowled a bad ball in the match. How sad that he should have been unable to reproduce this form in front of his own supporters.
So that's how it stands, currently. Durham, or Yorkshire? Or Sussex? Or perhaps, while these three are beating one another up, Middlesex or Warwickshire will sneak in and take the title. The other four counties are all involved in the relegation struggle.
Whatever happens, at either end of the table, it has been a fantastic season of truly first-class cricket. The Ashes contest - for me - has been the sideshow, this time.
Dave Morton, now retired, grew up worshipping the great Yorkshire team of the 1950s