Barker leads Warwickshire to 'benchmark' win
Warwickshire 267 (Bell 120) and 36 for 1 beat Durham 163 (Barker 5-33) and 139 (Barker 5-37) by 9 wickets
When we come to reflect on the 2012 season, it may be that this game marks a changing of the guard in the county game. While the end of season table has not always shown it, Durham have had much the better of Warwickshire in the last five or six years. Warwickshire had not beaten them since 2006 and, in the intervening years, had suffered seven defeats. At times the margins were crushing.
This Warwickshire side is made of sterner stuff. While previous incarnations wilted in the face of quick bowling, this version of Warwickshire bats below sea level, has remarkable variation and depth of bowling and can catch swallows in the field. Had it not been for the rain, they may well have won four games out of four. As it is they have already beaten the sides that were first, third and fourth last year. There will, no doubt, be some bumps on the road, but it already seems safe to assume that any side that finishes above Warwickshire this summer will be very close to the Championship title.
They still have some issues. Their captain, Jim Troughton, is so bereft of form that he should be considered a gas and there will be many times when they must do without their England duo of Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell. With Bell not currently in England's limited-overs squads, however, he may well be available more often than he has been in previous years. Chris Woakes, too, should be back for the next game.
Bell's contribution to this victory was immense. By making a century in a match where nobody else could make a half as much, Bell demonstrated not only his class but his passion to contribute for the club at which he has played for two decades.
Jeetan Patel also played a key role. Although a modest-looking overseas signing - his first-class bowling average is in excess of 40, after all - he has contributed with bat, ball and in the field and, in helping the last two Warwickshire wickets add another 47 runs with some typically uncomplicated aggression, he took this game beyond Durham. On this surface, Warwickshire's first innings lead of 104 was dispiritingly large.
But, bearing in mind that Warwickshire started this season without the two men expected to lead their attack - Woakes and Boyd Rankin - then the most important feature in their success to date has been the emergence of Chris Wright and Keith Barker. In this match the left-arm seamer Barker, with his third five-wicket haul in three games and the first ten-wicket haul of his career, underlined his development as a bowler of international potential. No England-qualified bowler has taken more than his 22 wickets in the Division One season to date and, in this game, his fast swing bowling would have undone most. The deliveries that squared up Ben Stokes and Scott Borthwick were close to unplayable, while the manner in which a player as good as Michael di Venuto was bamboozled - barely playing a shot at one that removed his off stump - underlined the lavish movement Barker gained.
"We were concerned when we lost Woakes and Rankin," Ashley Giles, Warwickshire's director of cricket admitted. "But Barker and Wright have been superb. Durham are a benchmark side and it's nice to beat them. We're not making statements; we're not talking about championships, but we are playing with confidence. Now we need to maintain that."
Perhaps Durham's empire is starting to show signs of decline. Many of these players were involved when they won the Championship in 2008 and 2009 and the concern is that they are ageing together without adequate replacements pushing for their places. It would be wrong to write them off - in Stokes and Borthwick they have talented youngsters with bright futures - and there were times in this game when they simply suffered poor fortune. Paul Collingwood, for example, was run-out by an excellent direct hit from Tim Ambrose running to short fine leg, after slipping on the damp surface as he sought to regain his ground. Take out Bell's contribution, too, and there was little between the sides.
There is no disguising the fact that Durham's highest Championship total is just 253, however, or that none of their specialist batsmen have yet passed 50. Mitchell Claydon and Phil Mustard have done so, but it is the failures of the top-order that have cost them. Another batting collapse here left Warwickshire requiring just 36 to win.
Their frustration spilled over when Callum Thorp kicked down the stumps in frustration in the dying moments of the game. He will certainly face a disciplinary charge as a consequence. Graham Onions, who forced Trott into evasive action when shying at the stumps in Warwickshire's first innings, may also be fortunate to avoid further action. The absence of Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett, marooned in second XI cricket, is not helping, but it is the batting, not the bowling that is the issue.
"We have some pretty good players and they haven't managed to get any totals on the board," Geoff Cook, Durham's director of cricket said. "They all could have scored more runs and it's something we have to rectify very quickly."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo