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April 26, 2013
Yorkshire 177 (Root 49, Onions 5-63) and 17 for 0 need another 319 runs to beat Durham 237 (Mustard 70, Bresnan 4-41) and 275 for 4 dec (Stoneman 109, Benkenstein 61*)
Jonny Bairstow wants to be an Ashes contender. There is nothing wrong with that. But at Chester-le-Street in the past two days, his troubles have instead come to symbolise Yorkshire's uncomfortable start to the Championship season.
Bairstow's misconceived pull shot - a set up by Graham Onions that could not have worked more smoothly - was one of the low spots of Yorkshire's careless first-innings batting performance on the second day; his fumble of a regulation wicketkeeping chance from Mark Stoneman on the third day was another costly error as Durham secured a dominant position with the bat.
Stoneman had made 11 when he edged Tim Bresnan and he must have fleetingly assumed that Durham's top-order travails were about to continue. But Bairstow allowed the chance to slip and Stoneman went on to make his fifth first-class century as Durham, sensing Yorkshire's vulnerability, declared with a lead of 335 shortly before the close.
It represented a confident declaration by Durham's captain, Paul Collingwood, one which must have been influenced not just by an iffy weather forecast for the final morning but by his perception of Yorkshire's state of mind. The history of this ground also suggests Yorkshire should not get close, especially after a spring like this one, but nevertheless it sets up a potentially intriguing final day which will reveal much about their true qualities.
Leading players attract attention and, if concentration on Bairstow's inexplicable errors is harsh, especially as they have been merely part of a shoddy Yorkshire performance, one which Collingwood has given them the slightest glimmer of a chance to rectify, such pressures are part and parcel of an international cricketer's lot.
Kevin Pietersen's absence from the New Zealand Test series and Champions Trophy because of a knee complaint has thrust Bairstow back into contention at the start of the international summer, but he must be aware that a powerful restatement of his talents would be timely.
He managed only three single-figure scores in a Test winter disrupted by his mother's illness and he was also surprised to find that England's one-day wicketkeeping role now seems to be a contest exclusively fought out between the Somerset pair, Jos Buttler and Craig Kieswetter.
Yorkshire's confidence at the start of the season could hardly be ignored. Geoffrey Boycott, the club's president, had already indicated that a Championship pennant would be a fitting way to celebrate the 150th anniversary and Andrew Gale, a captain with vigorous ambitions, took up the message.
"My message to the players is quite clear: let's go and win the title in Yorkshire's anniversary year," he pronounced. "As captain I think it's important I send out the right message… I don't want to be saying that the goal this year is simply to compete and avoid relegation."
But avoiding relegation has looked like a suitable aim as Yorkshire have tumbled to defeat against Sussex at Headingley and had the worst of this tussle against Durham at The Riverside. Bairstow is named alongside Boycott, Michael Vaughan and Darren Gough as a special guest at Yorkshire's Gala Dinner at Elland Road in early October and it will need a distinct improvement to ensure that the Veuve Cliquot slips down well.
Before play began, predictions in Austin's Bistro were that the end of the world was nigh. Thunder and hailstones the size of duck eggs could apparently be taken for granted. As Stoneman and Keaton Jennings compiled 123 for the first wicket, Yorkshire's thoughts must have strayed skywards, only to subsequently find that if it was as cold as Mickle Fell in late November, the end of the world amounted to a brief shower which clipped an hour or so off the final session.
Bresnan brought some solace by removing Keaton Smith and Will Smith in the same over and later there were two wickets for Liam Plunkett against his former county, but the day belonged to Stoneman.
For all his modest record, he made his hundred look routine, just as he had in conquering the Nottinghamshire attack last August in an innings that went a long way to preserving Durham's Division One status. He reached 109 from 167 balls before he edged Plunkett into the slips. A batsman's life is tougher on this ground than anywhere in the country. Stoneman - and Jennings for that matter - deserve the good days.
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