Blackwell hopes for fresh start after early ton
Durham 311 for 4 (Blackwell 102*, Smith 71*) v MCC
Ian Blackwell couldn't have moved any further during the winter, uprooting his career from Somerset in the south west and transplanting into to the defending county champions, Durham, up in the north-east corner of England. It's a trek that he hopes will rekindle an international career that has been stalled since 2006.
He couldn't have started much better than a hundred on his debut as rain limited play to 17 overs on the second day against MCC at Lord's. "It's a new challenge and I've wanted to get my name back in lights," Blackwell said. "I want to play for England again. With a change of county, I can test myself, get out of my comfort zone and progress with my cricket."
England have named two large squads in the last week and Blackwell's name was nowhere near either of them, yet he should be pushing much harder for a one-day place. Duncan Fletcher liked what he could bring to the team - a two-dimensional cricketer capable of destructive batting and useful spin - but he eventually grew tired of his poor fitness. Blackwell's last ODI was at Indore in April 2006. The issue has plagued him throughout his career and isn't going away in a hurry.
Over the winter he has slimmed down and worked hard on his fitness. It is something of a change of heart as a key reason for him leaving Somerset was struggling to adapt to Justin Langer's fitness philosophy. Blackwell is adamant he left on good terms with most at Taunton, but he clearly didn't see eye-to-eye with Langer.
"I get on well with Brian Rose [the director of cricket], Richard Gould [the chief executive] and even Andy Hurry the coach and they were pleased for me that I have gone to a decent county and wished me all the best. I'd like to think that if I wanted to go back there one day they'd welcome me with open arms.
"Langer wanted me to be a bit fitter. He said I had an issue with my throwing arm as well, which I disputed a little bit because I think it's okay. There were various factors but he didn't see me fitting into the mould he wanted so that was that really."
England have shown recently that a lack of fitness won't be tolerated when they dropped Samit Patel from the one-day squad, so Blackwell will have a hard task proving he is worth further investment at the highest level. He has spoken with Geoff Miller, the national selection, about his desire to play for England again and Miller in turn has told him what they expect. Blackwell, though, admits he may never be a perfect fit for the national side
"For me it's a little more difficult with my lifestyle and the way I've been over the last few years," he said. "But I've rectified that a little bit and do look after myself better than I have done in the past. Perhaps I haven't done everything I could to give me a chance of playing for England through my fitness. It's always been an issue. I'm easily led and rarely turn down a drink or chance or to go out."
An England return may be a long way away, but Durham should feel the benefits of Blackwell's move in the short term. His 102-ball century against the MCC showed the power he will add to their middle order as they aim to retain the Championship title and target further one-day success. Will Smith, Durham's new captain, helped take their unbroken fifth-wicket stand to 170 before rain arrived before lunch and didn't relent. Play was abandoned shortly after tea, leaving the main sub-plot of this match still unexplored.
Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell are still waiting for their chance to impress the selectors. With an indifferent forecast over the weekend it is looking increasingly likely that the MCC batsmen may have to make do with one innings in this match, and with the Test squad expected to be named on April 18 time is running out.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo