Yorkshire punish lacklustre Durham
Yorkshire 304 for 2 v Durham
Durham have won back-to-back titles despite their emergence as a supply line for England's international teams yet there is a limit to how far even their resources stretch. They have coped with having Paul Collingwood, Stephen Harmison and Graham Onions missing simultaneously at times but that trio are not their only current absentees.
Nigel Kent, the Durham physio, who has been tending to back injuries afflicting Harmison and Onions, is also treating Mitch Claydon for an abdominal strain and must now add Callum Thorp to his list of patients after the Australian suffered a strain during the warm-up. It was not nearly so dramatic as James Hildreth's mishap at Taunton, where a pre-match game of touch rugby ended with a gashed knee and a trip to hospital. However, Hildreth was at least able to take his place in Somerset's XI after treatment.
Durham, who had nominated 23-year-old seamer Chris Rushworth for his first-class debut in place of Claydon, turned to leg-spinner Scott Borthwick to fill in for Thorp, reasoning that a dry pitch would probably suit the slow bowlers as the match evolved. Yorkshire, too, named two spinners in Adil Rashid and David Wainwright.
Sunderland-born Rushworth, a cousin of Phil Mustard, took seven wickets for his home-town club side on Saturday and made his senior competitive debut for Durham in Sunday's 129-run win over Hampshire in the Clydesdale Bank 40, taking 2 for 29 from seven overs. He was asked to open the bowling with Mark Davies here but has been used sparingly so far.
Will Smith might look back and wonder if he should have given him a little more responsibility, given Liam Plunkett's waywardness. If Rushworth was inclined to feed too many balls to Adam Lyth's appetite for driving through the covers, Plunkett supplied still more easy pickings, conceding 62 runs in his first dozen overs as the Yorkshire left-hander led opening partner Joe Sayers on a romp through the opening session.
Lyth's strokeplay was sublime, worthy of applause whatever the quality of the bowling. He reached his half-century in a hurry, hitting 11 fours in 74 balls, most of them sumptuously despatched through the off side off the front and the back foot.
It was only after Ian Blackwell replaced Plunkett at Kirkstall Lane end, where the new pavilion is nearing completion, that the flow of runs was arrested. The left-arm spinner was by some distance the best of the Durham bowlers, maintaining a consistently troublesome accuracy that eventually earned him the wickets of both openers.
Lyth, who is developing a frustrating tendency to set himself up for a century and then fail to see the job through, perished this time on 85, caught in two minds about whether to play forward or back to the former Somerset all-rounder and in the end really doing neither, edging the ball to Michael di Venuto at slip as a result.
It had been a lovely innings, illuminated by 16 fours, but after hitting 90, 84 and 85 in his last four visits to the crease it was no surprise that he looked hacked off with himself as he wandered back to the dressing rooms. Sayers, whose contribution to Yorkshire's third century opening stand in four days had been more patient but scarcely less valuable, soon followed, caught off bat and pad by Smith at short leg. Yorkshire's 146 for 0 had become 179-2.
Nonetheless, any hopes Durham might have had of taking a grip were short lived. Having won the right to bat first on a placid surface, Yorkshire were clearly determined to continue their fine start to the season. Jacques Rudolph looked in good touch from the outset, defending immaculately against Blackwell and picking off boundaries with real authority.
By the close, he and Anthony McGrath had reasserted Yorkshire's control, Rudolph reaching 50 off 110 balls, McGrath a little more circumspect at first, needing 147 deliveries to reach the same milestone, with eight boundaries.
If there is a disappointment, it is that the pitch has so little pace that there will be a price to pay in bonus points, unless they can find some phenomenal acceleration in the first 10 overs of day two. The regret for Durham is that their bowling was not restrictive enough. Dale Benkenstein's wobbly medium pace was tidy enough and Mark Davies, who has not enjoyed the best of starts to the season, will draw some encouragement from his control. Rushworth came back better with the second new ball but Plunkett conceded more than five runs per over.
If it had not been for Blackwell, who totted up 12 maidens in 27 overs and rarely bowled a bad ball, Yorkshire, who have been talking up their title chances even at this early stage of the season, might have ended the day feeling still more pleased with themselves. With no Tim Bresnan and no Ajmal Shahzad, however, they do not know yet how their own back-up bowling will stack up, although the West Indian Tino Best makes his county debut in this match.