Robson and rain on Durham minds
Durham 256 and 223 for 4 (Jennings 105*) lead Somerset 179 (Trego 45, Onions 4-62) by 300 runs
Throughout this game Durham's players are wearing black armbands as a mark of respect to a man without whose efforts, perhaps, few of them would be professional cricketers. Don Robson died on March 10, aged 82. A former leader of Durham County Council, Robson was also Durham's first chairman when the club achieved first-class status. He resolved that Durham would join the County Championship, and they did so; he was determined that Durham would have a ground of which they could be proud, and they have the Emirates Riverside, where Test matches are played. "Si monumentum requiris, circumspice," indeed. Robson, by all accounts, was a force of nature; he wanted something and he made it so.
Yet, as with most of TE Lawrence's dreamers of the day, Robson's contribution cannot be measured by the tangible. Jack Burnham is a professional cricketer. He was born nearly five years after Durham made their first-class bow at the Parks. The current game against Somerset is Burnham's fifth Championship match and in the first innings he helped Keaton Jennings put on 79 for the third wicket. He is batting at No. 4, above both Michael Richardson and Paul Collingwood. Burnham is learning with almost every ball he faces; one can almost see the experience being stored away. And he has a better chance of making it in the game because there is a first-class county about 15 miles away from Esh Winning, where he was born and brought up.
Graham Onions knew Robson well and he is a team-mate of Burnham. Not too many people are better qualified to talk about both men. "Don was an absolute gentleman and we're wearing the armbands to show respect to the man who gave us opportunities to perform at the best level," he said. "It's a massive thank you as well as a celebration of a great life. We play so much cricket that we sometimes forget that without Don we wouldn't have a ground on which to play. We have Brydon Carse, who is making his Championship debut in this game and he's probably too young to think about what Don did in his life, but I certainly thank Don for what he did. He had a vision and he achieved it."
This is looking like a tough year for Durham's cricketers, but you sometimes get the impression that is how they like it. The cover of their outstanding yearbook - and how, pray, do some chief executives have the brass neck to ditch these fine productions? - features a grim-faced Collingwood clutching his Durham shirt rather in the manner of one of his beloved Sunderland footballers and brandishing the badge in the lens of the camera. John Hastings will not be playing for the county this season and no replacement for the Australian has been named. Yet that will only give more chances to people like Burnham, Carse and the other academy graduates at the club Robson helped to build. And after all, Chester-le-Street has a decent pedigree as a fortress. Once called Concagium, it was an important military station guarding the Roman road from the Tees to the Pons Aelium.
"We read in the paper a couple of weeks ago that people had us odds-on favourites to go down," said Onions, "but when we won the league in 2013, we began with negative points and we showed people then what we could do. We have the same kind of mindset this year. Missing John Hastings is a big blow but it gives a great opportunity to the young lads to show how good they are. It's very important that if they do get the opportunity, they show that they're not just there to make up the numbers. Brydon is sitting in the changing room and I don't think he realises what he's done, but he will. He's young and naïve but that's fine."
It rained at Chester-le-Street for most of Tuesday. The idea of playing cricket was rather laughable and the players were probably relieved to make a swift getaway just after lunch. Yet even on a bleak day when the rain shrouded the trees on The Haughs in mist and one's mood was darkened by the news of James Taylor's enforced retirement, there was still something to learn and think about. That is usually the case at any cricket ground, though, if only one looks and listens.