Blackwell shows he is right at home
Durham 303 for 7 (Blackwell 95, Mustard 62*) v Yorkshire
Durham and Yorkshire shared an enthralling first-day's play at the Riverside Ground, and honours finished about even. Tim Bresnan's superb bowling had Durham in difficulties early on, but Ian Blackwell, aided by Phil Mustard, led a determined fight-back as the balance of the match slowly swung away from the visitors.
This was a match between the giants of the past and the giants of the present: Yorkshire, with 30 outright Championship titles to their credit, facing Durham, the newest first-class county, but the reigning champions. Last year Durham enjoyed two convincing Championship victory over their mighty southern neighbours, but three days earlier Yorkshire won the FP Trophy match between the two teams, so neither could start the match claiming to be overwhelming favourites. The weather played up to the occasion, with Durham belying its reputation for chilly Aprils with a mild, sunny day and a good pitch, which did, however, offer some movement to the bowlers.
Both these sides possess strong seam attacks, but Matthew Hoggard was not at his best in his opening spell and Michael Di Venuto took advantage. Bresnan, however, bowled superbly and seized the wicket of Mark Stoneman (2), who aimed a rather desperate drive at a ball that moved away from him and edged a difficult low catch to the keeper, Gerard Brophy, who took it well in front of first slip. Di Venuto pulled Hoggard twice for four, but when he tried to take a similar liberty with Bresnan, he skied a catch straight to mid-on. It bounced out of Hoggard's hands, but to his relief he managed to snatch the rebound before the ball hit the ground.
Bresnan was most impressive, making the ball move and lift, beating the bat frequently. He had Will Smith, on 6, dropped at third slip from a difficult chance and his opening spell read 8-2-11-2. Deon Kruis also bowled well and found good movement, while Steven Patterson removed Gordon Muchall, pushing forward to be caught at the wicket. After lunch the strike bowlers returned with a vengeance and gave the batsmen a torrid time, beating them frequently. Hoggard this time bowled magnificently and he soon found the edge of Smith's bat to leave Durham 82 for 4. For half an hour minutes the batsmen struggled to survive until the bowlers tired, but then Dale Benkenstein fell victim to Kruis for 17, poking outside the off stump to give Brophy another catch.
Blackwell, who is quickly finding his feet at his new home, came to the rescue of his side. On 26 he sliced a ball for four just over the slips, while his partner Phil Mustard also enjoyed some luck as he played himself in, but they settled down to build the critical stand that altered the entire aspect of the match.
Blackwell scored a century for Somerset against Yorkshire at Scarborough last year and they still haven't been able to work him out successfully. This time he just missed three figures, going for 95 as he drove across the line to Hoggard, armed with the second new ball, and gave Brophy his fifth catch of the day to end a crucial stand of 107.
Bresnan was as good at the end of the day as he was at the start and if anything made the ball do too much as Mustard persistently drove in vain at deliveries cutting away from him. He had Liam Plunkett dropped at second slip, but later in the same over the batsman fell to third slip for 10. Shortly afterwards Mustard reached a dogged 50, scarcely recognizable from some of his dashing one-day knocks, but exactly what his team needed in these circumstances. As the Yorkshire bowling tired a little the aggressive Callum Thorp picked up some easier runs to take Durham past 300. This match holds great promise for a fascinating contest.