Durham v Worcestershire, Chester-le-Street, 1st day June 30, 2009

Plunkett grabs six but Worcester fight

John Ward at Chester-le-Street

Durham 40 for 3 (Coetzer 20*) trail Worcestershire 193 (Noffke 50, Plunkett 6-63) by 153 runs

This was a meeting between the top and bottom teams in Division One of the Championship, and for most of the day each side played to their billing. Worcestershire, batting first, rarely looked capable of reaching 200, even before the one-time England paceman Liam Plunkett, now demoted to fourth seamer in his county's reserve attack, suddenly found his form again with six wickets. But the visitors were not totally without a sting, as their own bowling spearhead Kabir Ali shattered the top order when Durham batted, before equilibrium was restored by close of play.

Both teams were rather depleted, due to the imminent Test series and also the England Lions match. Durham were without their usual spearhead of Steve Harmison and Graham Onions, but they have good reserves of seam bowlers, as was soon evident.

Callum Thorp, an adept at swinging the ball in the right conditions, did so with skill, and his third ball resulted in a big lbw shout against the Worcestershire opener Daryl Mitchell. He was well supported by Mitchell Claydon at the other end, and after ten overs only five runs were on the board, one of them a wide by Claydon, for no wicket - a sign not only of superb bowling but also of the batsmen's grim determination to stay in. Then the eleventh over saw Thorp straying to leg: four leg-byes were followed by a leg-glance for four by Mitchell, and the bowler was rested after seeing the figures of his opening spell ruined to the extent of 6-3-7-0.

But the pressure to score told on batsmen living in the Twenty20 era, and Alexei Kervezee, attempting to nudge a good ball from Thorp's replacement Mark Davies to third man, ended up giving second slip a simple catch. Mitchell's patience also expired; he slashed and was caught at the wicket off Plunkett for 13 off 59 balls. At least they had seen off the opening bowlers, but had little to show for it personally. Plunkett was the most profligate of the four seamers before lunch, sending down some loose deliveries off which the starving batsmen fed avidly.

Ben Smith was the only batsman before lunch who seemed able to handle the bowling, playing some good strokes, especially on the off side. He lost Moeen Ali (9 off 40 balls) to a good high catch in the slips, and had an impressive 21 off 32 balls at the interval, when the total was 60 for 3. Briefly the batsmen flourished during the afternoon with some brisk running between wickets, but against these bowlers in these conditions it did not last. Both fell in quick succession - Smith bowled for 33 by a superb ball from Claydon that went right through him and removed his off stump, and David Wheeldon (7) to an ill-advised slash outside the off stump, giving a catch to the wicketkeeper Phil Mustard, who otherwise did not enjoy too happy a day behind the stumps, several times conceding byes.

This left the visitors reeling at 80 for 5, but help was on its way from the Australian al-rounder Ashley Noffke, promoted to No. 6 in this match. He played a wise game, content to wait for the loose delivery and then hit it effectively. He was helped by Gareth Batty, who was very uncertain at first, but recovered to score 19 before being bowled off stump by Plunkett, who was now finding his rhythm. The pair added 57 valuable runs.

Kabir Ali replaced Batty and, after surviving a chance in the slips after tea, saw Noffke through to a most admirable 50 off 117 balls. Without addition, though, the Australian skied an attempted pull off Plunkett to the keeper, and immediately Kabir was surprised by a fast lifting ball from the same bowler and fended it tamely to gully. Their departure left Worcestershire at 187 for 8. The inspired bowler quickly beat and bowled Chris Wheelan without scoring, and then polished off the innings when Matt Mason, after several abortive attempts to give the slips some catching practice, finally succeeded and departed for 2, leaving Josh Knappett, Worcestershire's understudy for Steve Davies as wicketkeeper, unbeaten with 4. Worcestershire were gone for 193, and Plunkett had 6 for 63. His three fellow seamers had done a fine job, but had to make do with just one wicket apiece.

Matters were not plain sailing for the Durham batsmen, either, and Worcestershire's collapse paled into insignificance compare to the astonishing start to the Durham innings. In the third over, still without a run on the board, Michael Di Venuto played a ball from Kabir on to his stumps, and next ball the same bowler produced an even better delivery to remove Will Smith's off stump. However, he sprayed the hat-trick ball down the leg side. Mason, not to be outdone, then bowled a flyer that Gordon Muchall edged to the keeper, Kyle Coetzer by now having scored a single to get his team off the mark.

Durham fought their way out of trouble at one run for three wickets in the manner of champions, however, as Coetzer and Dale Benkenstein played calmly, hit the loose ball crisply and kept the score moving without taking any risks. Within minutes the confident response of the two batsmen had restored the feeling that the county champions had the situation back under control after a minor hiccup, and they took Durham through to 40 for 3 at the close without a moment's further concern.