Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
Yorkshire 199 (Coughlin 3-46) and 172 for 4 (Malan 73, Brook 66*) beat Durham 103 (Coad 4-23) and 266 (Lees 106, Bedingham 77, Fisher 4-54) by six wickets
As if to remind us of something else we had missed during four blank months, it rained at the Riverside this morning. Gently at first, the drizzle scarcely compelling the use of windscreen wipers on the 21 bus to Durham, but soon with such severity that the whole square was covered and an early lunch announced. In their dressing room Yorkshire's cricketers worried, without need as it turned out, whether they would get a chance to score the 68 runs needed for victory, while Durham's toyed with the notion they might escape with eight points for the draw. Over at the indoor school the county's Cricket Board held its first summer camp and cars carrying keen young players queued outside the ground at breakfast time. So much, so admirable, so normal.
But these are abnormal times and not even the cherished scaffolding of first-class cricket has convinced anyone otherwise. On Monday afternoon Alex Lees made a six-hour century and Matthew Fisher changed the game in four memorable overs. Yet the cricketers were playing in a one-off competition, watched by no spectators and with their lives so wreathed in protocols that Yorkshire's players have been forbidden to leave their hotel and must drive to grounds singly. Elsewhere in England policies are being contemplated that will affect the livelihoods of millions. Perhaps it was valuable to focus narrowly on the skills of Lees and Fisher; to think about what we can see rather than worrying about invisible threats.
But when play got under way at 1.45 the threats to Durham's bowlers were all too clear. They were apparent in the batting of Dawid Malan, who made 73, and even more so in the cultured hitting of Harry Brook, who finished the game with successive straight sixes off Gareth Harte. And those maximums were only two of four sixes Brook struck during a 50-minute session which was curiously alien to the general tempo of the previous three days' cricket. He and Malan clearly had little inclination to hang around on a chilly afternoon at the Riverside and the consequence of this resolve was that Yorkshire scored 64 runs in 10.4 overs, Lees' one over costing 12 runs and Harte's four deliveries being tanked for 17.
Durham did take one wicket during all this mayhem but Lees' removal of Malan, caught at long-on by Sean Dixon, was only of much interest to collectors of bizarre trivia. The very occasional spinner, though he barely merits that noun, has taken only three first-class wickets but has twice dismissed Malan. On the first occasion Lees was playing for Yorkshire and was trying to give Middlesex runs during the famous championship decider at Lord's in 2016; this afternoon Malan had whacked Lees for a six and a four before he perished when attempting another mighty heave.
Brook's batting in those final overs had rather less of the Barley Mow about it. He began with a cultured back-foot four off Ben Raine and then hooked Chris Rushworth into the grey metallic splendour of the stand sponsored by Newcastle Airport. When Paul Coughlin also dug it in Brook adjusted his position adroitly in order to pull a straighter delivery slightly backward of square for a second six. Quite regardless of the end-of-term atmosphere then prevailing, this was high-quality demolition and Brook's unbeaten 66 off 90 deliveries was the final highlight of a match that has rewarded attentive study.
The first ball hooked for six was lost. The second was recovered although umpire Graham Lloyd insisted on it being sanitised before Rushworth was allowed to touch it again. The players took advantage of this delay to have a general cleansing of hands. These interruptions have already been labelled sanity breaks by club cricketers and one sees their point.