Nottinghamshire v Durham, County Championship, Division One, 2nd day May 11, 2010

Harmison returns but Durham struggle

Jon Culley

Durham 218 v Nottinghamshire 191 for 3

After a season so-far bedevilled by one injury after another, with their bowling resources under particular strain, the sight of Steve Harmison with ball in hand must have been cheering indeed for Durham as they seek to stay in touch with the early-season front-runners in the Championship.

No one is threatening their grip on the title more impressively than their opponents here. With a 100 per cent record from three matches, Chris Read's squad looks well equipped for a sustained challenge. Durham, though unbeaten, are not yet firing fluently and there is an opportunity here for Nottinghamshire to place a sizeable distance between them.

In the circumstances, what would be handy indeed for Durham is for Harmison somehow to conjure a repeat of his performance on this ground last July, when he rushed up the motorway after England released him from their second Ashes Test squad at Lord's and bowled like a dream.

Finding the pace and hostility that was to serve Durham well in the second half of the season, he took 6 for 20 in the second innings and Durham won by an innings.

This time, after Durham were bowled out for 218 on what looked a lively enough pitch, there was every reason to suppose that Harmison might do something similar. He might yet, although much will depend on how his body reacts to his first attempt to bowl close to flat out since the end of last season.

Niggled by what has been described as "frayed nerves" in his back, Harmison could bowl very little in a weather-hit comeback against Durham UCCE last week and the overs he bowled in last Sunday's Clydesdale Bank 40 were fairly low key.

He looked noticeably rusty in a short initial spell yesterday, taking stock after only five overs. Earlier, while batting, he looked still to be in discomfort and appeared to be calling for the physio moments before Durham's last wicket fell.

With his second spell with the ball, however, it appeared any stiffness he might have been feeling had worn off. Running in from the pavilion end, from which he did all the damage last year, he certainly looked more potent, giving Mark Wagh and Hashim Amla plenty to think about. He might have had Amla on 20, when the South African gave a chance to Liam Plunkett at gully, although it would have been a magnificent catch had he held it.

As it happened, Amla did lose his wicket to Harmison - Ben, that is. Amla has been impressive in his short stint as overseas player here, scoring at least a half century in six of his seven innings so far. This is his last match before making way for David Hussey, and it was little wonder he felt he had missed an opportunity when an uncharacteristically loose swish outside off stump cost him his wicket, for 52.

Earlier, Bilal Shafayat had been leg before offering no stroke and Neil Edwards dragged a wide delivery on to his stumps, giving Plunkett a double success. Mark Wagh remains and with plenty of batting to come Nottinghamshire look well placed at 191 for 3, assuming of course they can survive anything Harmison might come up with in the first session on day three.

Durham, who had Dale Benkenstein and Ian Blackwell together overnight, faded away somewhat disappointingly in the end, sliding from 117 for 3 to 191 for 8 before lunch.

Blackwell, who never looked in the mood to do anything but attack the bowling, did not profit from it, falling to Darren Pattinson with a loose drive taken at gully. Benkenstein, for his part, had no answer to a perfect inswinger from Charlie Shreck that splayed his stumps rather dramatically.

Samit Patel's left-arm spin undid Ben Stokes with his first ball, which turned past the bat as the teenager stepped down the track, allowing Read to pull off a meat-and-drink stumping.

Patel followed up by having Plunkett caught at short leg after Mustard had edged Paul Franks, who helped wicketkeeper Chris Read claim his 700th first-class victim when Ben Harmison was caught off a thin edge after lunch. Franks, who is looking a very useful allrounder again after seemingly putting his fitness problems behind him, picked up his third wicket when Edwards took a routine slip catch to remove Chris Rushworth.