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May 12, 2012
Durham 125 (Overton 4-38) and 234 for 9 (Trego 3-52, Meschede 3-58) drew with Somerset 267 (Kieswetter 96, Meschede 62, Thorp 4-71)
When Paul Collingwood responded to the end of his England career near the end of last season not by retiring, but by restating his commitment to Durham, with a dash of worldwide Twenty20 thrown in, his head coach Geoff Cook extolled the virtues of a grounded personality who had proved there was a cricketing life beyond the international stage.
"He can help us through a slightly transitional phase," Cook said at the time. Only the word "slightly" is now looking a little over optimistic. Transition is upon Durham quicker than Cook had hoped, certainly in the four-day game, and judging by the nervy way they secured a draw against Somerset, Collingwood's scrapping instincts have never been more necessary.
Durham, widely regarded as serious Championship contenders, remain bottom. They had begun the final day vulnerably placed, felt relatively safe at tea at 144 for 3, a lead admittedly of only two runs, but two quick wickets after the break for Craig Meschede, including the captain Phil Mustard, the only man who has dared look at his batting statistics this season, ensured there would be no handshakes at 5pm.
It was left to Ian Blackwell, with foot movement so restricted that you would not fancy his chances crossing the stepping stones at Stanhope, to negotiate a draw with a stubborn 38 not out, but Somerset might have pulled off a win had Peter Trego or Alex Barrow held two slip catches when a late-evening run chase was still a possibility.
Somerset also had chances earlier. Mark Stoneman was missed by Craig Overton at third slip and turned 4 into 33 and Collingwood had also edged Trego perilously close to second slip when 9 and went on to make 36. Somerset abandoned hope with Durham 92 ahead, the last pair at the crease and seven overs remaining.
A draw was something to cling to after trailing by 142 on first innings and they have the chance to build on that against Somerset in the CB40 on Sunday when Collingwood will take over the captaincy in the absence of Dale Benkenstein, who dislocated his shoulder in the pre-match warm-up. Cook is calling for character; he used to call for Steve Harmison, but Harmison has spent all season searching for a glimmer of form in the second XI.
Durham secured a draw without ridding themselves of the damning statistic that no batsman in the top six has yet reached fifty. Collingwood looked as likely as anybody to rid the county of an unwelcome marker before he fell lbw to Overton on 36. He settled in by pulling Trego for four and suggested that he was in reasonable order with a controlled extra-cover boundary against Meschede, an area where he can lose a spoke on the wagon wheel.
Returning to the county circuit after a long England career is not easy even for a cricketer with such a strong sense of regional identity as Collingwood and, even if he was never the type to envisage himself as a captain until the leadership of England's one-day sides fell his way, the extra responsibility could give him a fillip in the short term. County cricket, too, needs to prove that it can provide a few years of satisfaction for a committed cricketer with much still to give. If Collingwood cannot attune himself to a less glamorous existence then few can.
County cricket's gamesome pitches, during possibly the most weather-ravaged start to a Championship season since the 1950s, are quite a culture shock for England batsmen used to true international surfaces.
"I don't think anybody has seen the wickets around the country do this much," Collingwood said after the washed-out third day. "I've spoken to people like Andrew Strauss and we just laugh about how much the ball's doing. You've just got to forget about technique and things like that and find a way of scoring runs. You can be technically absolutely fantastic and be out second ball. It really has been difficult.
"As a batsman you try to protect one side of the bat but in these conditions you find the ball can beat both sides. It's like a spinner bowling normal off-breaks then all of a sudden you've got one going the other way."
It is the rewards of T20 that, naturally, have also driven Collingwood on, as the recognition grows that few players have managed to make a success of semi-retirement and a career playing exclusively T20 cricket. He was part of the Perth Scorchers side that qualified for the Champions League and also had a stint for Impi in South Africa. He would still not have returned to share Durham's early season agony had not Rajasthan Royals told him that with ten overseas players on their books he was surplus to requirements in the IPL.
That Somerset could put Durham under so much pressure owed much to the verve of Craig Kieswetter. Somerset were eight down at start of play and after two washed-out days led by 95, but Kieswetter borrowed a few leg side shots from the IPL and finished unbeaten on 96, scoring 36 of a further 47 added.
Kieswetter's assault forced Durham to field four leg-side boundary fielders for Mitch Claydon and it was one of them, Stoneman, who eventually ran out the last man, George Dockrell, at the bowler's end from deep midwicket as Kieswetter tried to farm the strike. Graham Onions was harder to slog, his form one of the few bright aspects to a difficult Durham season.
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