England v Bangladesh, 2nd Test, Chester-le-Street June 3, 2005

North East public show their support as local boy performs

The Riverside ground is making the most of its second Test match, even if it is likely to be brief.



Steve Harmsion enjoyed performing in front of an appreciative home crowd © Getty Images
It was initially denounced as a cynical marketing ploy, but the decision to begin this Test on a Friday is already turning out to be the shrewdest aspect of a crassly conceived itinerary. As England hurtled past Bangladesh's first-innings 104 inside 21 overs, so the prospect of play on Sunday's sell-out of a third day receded over the horizon. Had the ECB not broken with convention, and started on a Friday for the first time since Headingley in 1938, the match might have been over before the turnstiles had really had a chance to start revolving.

The North-East is still revelling in the novelty value of international cricket, and it is just as well, otherwise the denizens of Durham might be beginning to feel a little bit short-changed. This game is shaping up to be an even bigger rout than the one previous Test at the Riverside in 2003, and seeing as that match included the sight of Richard Johnson (6 for 33) skittling Zimbabwe for 94, that is quite some feat indeed.

But the Riverside's history has not just been one of England wiping the floor with its underprepared opposition, however. Last summer, Chester-le-Street's solitary one-day international was wrapped up one ball after the nominal halfway mark, as New Zealand squashed England by seven wickets in 17.2 overs in a "day-night" game that barely disturbed its second syllable. The only saving grace on that occasion was Steve Harmison's bold intervention. He picked up all three Kiwi wickets in seven furious overs, to give his home fans at least a little something to toast.

Harmison was back on target today, much to the glee of the cross-dressing students in the new stand at cow corner. Mind you, given that it is graduation week at Durham University, it would take a capitulation of Ashes proportions to wipe the smiles from those particular faces at present. For a truer indication of Harmy's pan-regional support, however, one had to turn - inevitably - to football, as a knot of red-and-white-striped Sunderland fans put aside their partisanship and stood to applaud a die-hard member of the Toon Army.

Aside from the suffering going on in the middle, it was a happy day all round at the Riverside, which was blessed with sporadic sunshine and crowned by an England team in exhibition mood. In 2003, the organisers had allowed themselves to be seduced by the history of the occasion, and had installed more temporary seating than the opposition merited. Admittedly, Chester-le-Street was England's first new Test venue in more than 100 years, and so it was an understandably enthusiastic error, but the lowly Zimbabweans were never likely to capture the public imagination.

Two years on, a better proportioned stadium that had been created for the Bangladeshis. Fewer extra seats created a cosier feel, and enabled the spectators to obtain glimpses of the action as they wandered around the grassy concourse at midwicket, beneath the spectacular backdrop of Lumley Castle.

Much like the opposition in this game, there is an air of incompletion about the Riverside. Portacabins are in abundance at the replay-screen end of the ground, while those who entered the brand-new press box were given explicit instructions as to what to do in the event of a fire alarm - a highly likely occurrence, given the ongoing building works at every level of the construction.

Unlike Bangladesh, however, the promise for the future of this ground is already plain to see - from the gleaming indoor school on one corner to the glass-and-steel health club at the other. In this game, as at Lord's, Bangladesh have begun to look as naked as the nearby Gateshead Flasher, aka the Angel of the North. The building works that have been going on in their team have hit a severe construction glitch on this tour. One can only hope that the foundations are not reduced to rubble when the Australians arrive to take their tuppen'orth.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo