Northamptonshire v Durham, Northampton, 2nd day April 14, 2014

Northants make positive start

Northamptonshire 200 for 3 (Coetzer 53, Peters 51) trail Durham 452 (Mustard 91, Harrison 65, Breese 62) by 252 runs

The biggest test for sides promoted into Division One is finding enough runs. Without them, you cannot be competitive. Division One sees better pitches and longer batting line-ups. Teams take games deeper and for Northamptonshire to survive this season that is where they will have to match their rivals.

But there is reason to be positive. They were very difficult to beat in 2013 and on several occasions launched lower-order fightbacks. They found runs from several sources - a few of them unable to begin this season - and in their first innings back in Division One, against one of the best attacks in the country and replying to an intimidating Durham total, they presented themselves well.

The top three of Steven Peters, James Middlebrook - a makeshift opening bat - and Kyle Coetzer all got settled, with the former pair seeing off the new ball relatively untroubled. A very handy response to Durham's 452 was put in place. There were plenty of boundaries and the scoring rate until the last hour was around four-an-over. They coped very well with a Championship-winning quartet of seamers but the top three all made the cardinal sin of getting out when well set. They ended the day in decent shape but Durham could have been put under more pressure.

It would have perhaps said more about their prospects had Northants struggled on a docile wicket. They are set to have slightly flatter wickets than last year at Wantage Road and some confidence-boosting runs at home, and again proving hard to beat, will build their chances of survival a platform. They began the process here well but failed to screw in enough rivets to make their reply watertight.

A key difference between the two levels of the County Championship is the more persistent bowling attacks. Durham, Sussex, Warwickshire, Middlesex - the leading candidates for the title - can all turn to high-class second- and third-change bowlers. Durham have two very capable options in left-armer Jamie Harrison and the bustling Usman Arshad - although he was expensive here - and it was Harrison who made the breakthrough after an opening stand of 66 in 16 overs.

It was the first of three dismissals at dreadful times. The first two came in very similar fashion. Confident footwork had led to Peters, who averaged over 50 last season, and Middlebrook dealing with the early wobble of Graeme Onions and Chris Rushworth competently. But, after Middlebrook was missed at deep square leg - Keaton Jennings slipping on a practice wicket running in to take the catch - he failed to see out the over, being caught on the crease and edging to second slip. Harrison roared his relief.

Peters did much the same after another half-century stand and also provided a catch to Scott Borthwick off Onions, who once again begins a season hoping for a return to Test cricket. An encouraging winter spent with England Lions in Sri Lanka gives him renewed hope that he can be part of England's regeneration.

Coetzer followed Peters past fifty but drove loosely at Harrison and edged behind. Much like Durham at the close on day one, Northants may feel their top order have not done enough with Rob Newton playing with a broken thumb on his right hand and David Willey not fully fit.

Northants will hope to follow Durham's example. Fears that they had sold themselves short were eased by a whistling morning session where they added 139 runs at almost four-and-a-half an over.

They motored along, adding 55 runs in the opening 50 minutes before losing Phil Mustard nine short of his first century for Durham since May 2011. Having driven and missed several times, he went to leave Steven Crook's next over and was given out caught behind, the ball brushing the glove on the way through to David Murphy. Mustard's wicket ended a record sixth-wicket stand for Durham against Northants of 96 and helped them collect a third batting point.

Having survived the best part of the first hour, Durham were positively engaged in the day and Harrison fed off the progress to make his maiden first-class fifty, brought up after lunch in 53 balls. It included a delightful lift for six over square leg off Azharullah who was also taken over long-on for six more when Harrison had past fifty. Next ball he drove classily through mid-off for four more in helping add 65 for the ninth wicket. The lower order had pushed Durham to an excellent score. Good sides find a way to do that.

Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article