Stoneman shines on damp day
Durham 403 for 7 (Blackwell 139*, Stoneman 64, Woakes 4-105) v Warwickshire
Durham were frustrated by poor weather on the second day of their Championship match with Warwickshire at Edgbaston. Only 21.1 overs were possible, though the visitors did secure two extra batting bonus points in between the showers.
Ian Blackwell continued his fine form from the previous day. Twice in the first over he laced Chris Woakes through the covers, while he soon skipped down the wicket to launch Jeetan Patel to the long-off boundary with a shot of ferocious power.
But it was Mark Stoneman who really caught the eye. Despite batting with a thigh strain that necessitated using a runner, he timed the ball particularly sweetly off his legs as he and Blackwell added 93 for the seventh wicket. Stoneman brought up his half-century from 80 balls with a pulled six off Neil Carter having driven him through the covers the previous delivery.
Perhaps he should have gone earlier, however. Warwickshire missed another chance - a desperately hard one, but the fifth of the innings - as Stoneman, on 27, flashed at one from Chris Woakes and was put down by a diving Tim Ambrose.
Woakes did eventually get his man. Dropping short, he was rewarded when Stoneman picked out Boyd Rankin on the mid-wicket boundary and was held at the second attempt.
It was no more than Woakes deserved. He has endured a tough start to the Championship season, bowling on a series of the most unforgiving wickets imaginable, but here has earned four wickets so far through a fine and sustained display of swing bowling. Whether he has the pace to trouble Test batsmen remains to be seen, but the ability to swing the ball either way at will is rare and precious. He remains the pick of Warwickshire's bowlers.
Off the pitch, meanwhile, there was time for Ashley Giles to look ahead to the Ashes and compare the fortunes of the current squad with the team of 2005.
Giles, who played in 2005 and is now an England selector, admitted that England's form going into the series wasn't ideal, but insisted that the squad had the ability to regain the Ashes.
"We can't recreate what we did in 2005," Giles said. "That team had momentum and a real bond. We had been winning for a couple of years and I never played with a tighter unit in my career. I'd have run through a brick wall for any of them and they would have done the same for me. This England team doesn't have those moments to fall back upon.
"But what they can do is really get stuck in from ball one. They have some real fighters in there and if they can get in the Aussies' faces from the start, they can win the Ashes.
"Hopefully, by the end of the summer, people will have forgotten about what we did in 2005. They'll be talking about the team of 2009."
Meanwhile, a familiar face reappeared at Edgbaston. Dermot Reeve, the captain who led Warwickshire to unprecedented success in the mid 90s, called in at the ground to show his young children the scene of his former glories.
George Dobell is chief writer of Spin magazine