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April 12, 2012
Durham 55 for 3 trail Nottinghamshire 161 (Taylor 32, Onions 4-42, Claydon 3-33) by 106 runs
As Nottinghamshire's opening batsmen strapped on their pads, the scoreboard on the opposite side of the ground still showed 18 runs and 10 wickets, a reminder of how Durham had routed the hapless students of Durham on the same square a few days earlier. It was not immediately obvious whether the uncleared scoreboard was just county cricket's relaxed attitude to pre-game planning or a clever psychological ploy, but it was not designed to fill Nottinghamshire with confidence.
Durham's fast-bowling resources must be the envy of every county in the land. There are at least eight of them baying for four spots. They might not keep them all happy, but they can try to keep them all mean and, if they do so, a third Championship in five years will not be far away.
They left out two quicks of recent England vintage, Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett, and still dismissed Nottinghamshire for 161. No matter how often Nottinghamshire's coach, Mick Newell, reshapes his top six, the likelihood is that his captain, Chris Read, will be marching out around lunchtime to stem the blood flow. It was 38 for 4 when he scratched his guard, and beyond the tree-lined hillside Lumley Castle had a cold-stoned, wintry look. Alongside James Taylor, Read shaped a fifth-wicket stand of 66 that gave Nottinghamshire some sort of total to defend.
County cricket in April is confident in its image. Overcoated spectators are treated to a rush of wickets, ECB pitch inspectors shrug that little else can be expected, and batsmen console themselves with thoughts of revenge when the Championship settles in their favour in the second half of the season.
Some Durham fast bowlers will have to await their 1st XI call a little longer. Harmison, in racing parlance, is in need of a run; Plunkett has remodelled his action under the supervision of Durham's bowling coach Alan Walker and the success of that could determine whether he will live up to his early promise. Plunkett's ability to bowl an unplayable ball or two is undeniable, but his action has been as unstable as francium. Come to think about it, even francium manages a half-life of 22 minutes. On his bad days, Plunkett's action has been known to decay much faster than that.
It emphasised Durham's strength in depth that Nottinghamshire's first four wickets were shared out equally. It was a lively pitch, with a surprising amount of pace for Chester-le-Street in April, the benefits of the March heatwave apparent. Mitch Claydon (3 for 33) was the pick of Durham's attack, having Samit Patel caught at the wicket and removing Read lbw. Graham Onions made the first incursion when Alex Hales pushed hard at one, but he lost discipline after lunch before bouncing back against the tail to finish with 4 for 42.
Taylor, omitted from England's development squad after skippering the Lions in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, battled gamely in more demanding circumstances than those he normally faced in his days with Leicestershire in Division Two. He left the ball better than most and his pull when Onions dropped short was about the most assertive shot of the day. He did not make many runs in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, but it is hard to understand how he can be asked to captain a shadow squad through a winter in the sub-continent and then immediately be jettisoned. It will do him no harm, though, to work quietly on his game on the county circuit.
Patel had a different adjustment to make. It was 8C at the start of play, 34C cooler than it was a week or so ago when he shared in England's Test victory in Colombo.
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