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August 28, 2013
Durham 406 for 6 (Stokes 127, Stoneman 122, Sidebottom 3-76) v Yorkshire
There was an unmistakeable air of optimism at North Marine Road as the sun shone down on this wonderful old ground. The Yorkshire faithful gathered in force for the start of the Scarborough Festival to slap each other on the back, shake hands and wonder whether Yorkshire really could answer the clarion call of their president, Geoffrey Boycott, and win the Championship in their 150th year.
It is fortunate that Yorkshire's recent history, as well as the natural disposition of the natives, forewarned them against saying too much too soon. They had a bad day as hundreds - spritely hundreds too - for Mark Stoneman and Ben Stokes took full toll of what Yorkshire's bowlers conceded was one of their most wayward bowling performances of the season.
Nobody would be much surprised if Paul Collingwood followed up with a third hundred on the second morning, such is the inspirational effect his captaincy is having on this Durham side. This is an excellent pitch and the outfield is rapid, although Stokes hoped afterwards that Durham had "seen the best of it", sensing some inconsistent bounce in the final session.
Durham, 25.5 points behind Yorkshire with a match in hand, achieved maximum batting points for the first time this season and pronounced themselves serious Championship contenders.
"We've normally been bowling for 30 overs by this stage," joked Stokes, aware that if you bat half your life at Chester-le-Street you have to take advantage of batsman-friendly pitches like these.
Geoff Cook, whose recovery from a heart attack in late June has been so unexpectedly swift that he returned to coaching duties last week, must be uplifted by what he is witnessing.
Around 6,000 were present for the opening day - enough for Scarborough to lay claim to the biggest Championship crowd of the season. No Vacancies signs are out in force in the guest houses as Yorkshire basks in its finest summer for years.
Stoneman can rarely have played more blissfully, his 127 including 98 in boundaries and confirming his improvement this season. Stokes, who gave half a chance to Adam Lyth on 92, high above his head at second slip, can produce more power than the average wind farm. His batting has kicked on markedly this season, there are few more dangerous hitters in one-day cricket, and as he joins England's squad after this match, his first red-ball hundred of the season will have done his confidence no harm.
Catch Stokes on a good day and one could imagine that he must already be a fixture in both of England's limited-overs sides. Michael Vaughan had a bit of a point when he called for refunds because England had rested so many players for the NatWest Series, but if it has helped Stokes get a gig then all the better.
Stoneman departed to a bottom edge, trying to square drive a short, wide delivery from Ryan Sidebottom. It was Sidebottom's 600th first-class wicket, a few more than his father, Arnie, managed, although Arnie does have more wickets for Yorkshire. Neatly, the landmark came from a catch at the wicket from Jonny Bairstow, a reminder of past generations; David Bairstow used to take in Arnie's edges with the milk.
On the departure of Stoneman, Stokes took up the attack. Once the first hour had elapsed, and the pitch had settled, he cudgelled balls through the covers almost at will as well as threatening the man in the whelk stall with a dismissive slog-sweep against Adil Rashid. Attempting to repeat the shot, he sent the ball skywards and Bairstow took the catch. By then the man in the whelk stall was closing up, either for his own safety or because he had run out of whelks.
Liam Plunkett has recovered his self-esteem at Yorkshire this season, but renewing acquaintances against his old county, where his bowling method entirely deserted him, did not seem to bring him great psychological benefit as 12 overs cost 64. Rashid's legspin was also bountiful for Durham, preyed upon by Stokes in particular. When Kane Williamson dismissed Phil Mustard lbw, reverse sweeping, in the penultimate over, Yorkshire were grateful for a bonus wicket at the end of a tiring day.
Durham lost three wickets in the morning, with Williamson distinguishing himself with a fine, diving catch at first slip to dismiss Will Smith. Sidebottom earlier took two wickets in three balls, Keaton Jennings and Scott Borthwick, both of them lbw. Yorkshire's version of the DRS system ruled it fair enough: the umpire gave the decision and several hundred Yorkshire supporters muttered: "Aye, that were out."
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