Flintoff's run struggle continues
Durham 114 and 28 for 3 (di Venuto 13*, Davies 4*, Flintoff 3-7) require a further 295 runs to beat Lancashire 143 and 293 (Horton 108, Wiseman 4-87)
Another day, another match. Or was it? Actually, it was the same match and same two teams, Lancashire and Durham, now into their second innings, but with quite a difference. Was it better batting, poorer bowling or improved batting conditions? Probably a combination of all three.
It made no difference to Andrew Flintoff, whose struggle for runs continued with a pair. Much happier was Lancashire's opener Paul Horton, whose admirable century covered up a rather patchy scorecard for his team, while Durham's hero was Garry Park, whose intrusion into the home side's middle order ¬- including his dismissal of Flintoff - made the difference between a challenging target and an impossible one. Then came what might be called "Fred's Revenge," and Durham finished the day facing likely defeat.
Lancashire began the day 29 runs ahead. Horton and his partner, Mark Chilton, were clearly determined to lay a solid foundation for their side in the traditional way, solid defence and waiting for the loose ball to hit. They played this role to perfection, troubled only by the occasional dangerous lifter from a rather erratic Steve Harmison. The ball swung less than on the first day; the bowling hero then, Mark Davies, again found a little swing but tended to pitch the ball just a degree too wide of off stump this time, allowing the batsmen to let it go by safely.
Horton pulled Matt Claydon for four through midwicket to bring up the 50 in the 21st over. On this day it was the New Zealander Paul Wiseman who was the most dangerous bowler, and he took the first wicket, having Chilton (37) caught at the wicket off a ball that turned and lifted; 77 for 1. He had Mal Loye stumped for 14, and then an intriguing battle ensued with Mohammad Yousuf, who seemed determined to sweep him into submission. He played some fine strokes, but Wiseman won in the end, as Yousuf flicked rather than swept at a leg-side ball and was caught behind for 40. Lancashire at this stage were sitting pretty on 189 for 3.
The score advanced to 224 before Park took a hand. An occasional bowler who has also kept wicket, he had hitherto conceded more than 300 runs in first-class cricket without taking a wicket, but his first wicket was one worth waiting for, as he came on just before tea and got one right through Stuart Law to bowl him for 18.
This brought in Flintoff, who stabbed rather hurriedly but successfully at his first ball, and then raised his bat to acknowledge the ironic applause of the crowd. He survived until the interval but immediately afterwards pushed forward to a ball that skidded through and removed his off stump. This time his innings had lasted five balls.
With only one further run added, Park brought to an end Horton's invaluable innings, with a superb throw and direct hit from midwicket as the batsmen attempted a quick single. Horton, whose century took him 174 balls, made 108, and Lancashire had slumped to 225 for 6. Park, small and nippy, looks like the sort of bowler who could surprise - as indeed he did - batsmen who have not faced him before, but might become less effective with those who are used to his slingy action.
Luke Sutton (13) and Kyle Hogg (33) added 51 to restore some stability to the innings, with Hogg in particular hitting some impressive boundaries off loose balls. Davies managed to take the final two wickets, giving him nine for the match, but it was the unexpected but memorable intervention of Park that kept the total below 300. Lancashire made 293; Durham needed 323 to win and had 12 overs to bat through before the close of the second day.
It was not a happy experience for them. Flintoff, roaring in with pace, movement and no doubt stung pride, quickly reduced their top order to tatters. The batsmen groped, frequently hurried by speed, and Luke Sutton proved a willing accomplice with three catches behind the stumps. Mark Stoneman (5), Kyle Coetzer (0) and Paul Collingwood (1) all came and departed in little time; Collingwood, with 3 and 1, had scarcely a better match with the bat than his outraged England colleague, who at one stage had figures of 4-4-0-3.
Davies, the nightwatchman, can no doubt think of happier ways to spend an evening than obstructing a passionate Flintoff, but he survived, not without a bruise or two. But with the last seven wickets requiring another 295 to make the highest total of the match to win, his team will need a major performance from somebody to do it. A great deal will rest on the shoulders of Michael Di Venuto, still there with 13.