Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
Durham 287 for 4 (Lees 126*, Young 124) lead Warwickshire 87 (Raine 5-9, Wood 3-28) by 200 runs
Boiled cannabis or Viagra?
These were the bizarre alternatives that came to mind as one watched Durham strengthen their grip on this match to a point close to invulnerability. It should be pointed out at once that one is not referring to the lunch menu offered to the media at the Riverside; understandably enough in these straitened times, that consists of nothing at all. Rather, one is alluding to two of the apparent stimuli to failure and success in this rich, wonderful and endlessly diverse part of England. For in his quite brilliant book Engel's England Matthew Engel notes that a man appeared in Hartlepool magistrates court a few years ago accused of ill-treating his greyhounds by feeding them steaming ganja if he wanted them to lose and blue pills if he wanted them to win. The first had the desired effect and the second made them "run like mad".
It need hardly be stated in the strongest terms possible that the cricketers in this match were fuelled in entirely conventional fashion. Nevertheless, sport's polarities of outcome were illustrated with extreme clarity when Alex Lees and Will Young were sharing an opening partnership of 208, thus setting a new first-wicket record for Durham against Warwickshire and thereby overtaking by six runs the mark set by Graeme Fowler and Wayne Larkins at Darlington in 1993, one of the summers in which the then-peripatetic county played on half-a-dozen grounds.
The home side's advantage was therefore over 100 before Warwickshire enjoyed their first success and it could be argued the portents were even worse for Will Rhodes' team. The care with which the openers built their stand was quite fitting on a pitch that does not accommodate fast scoring and at least two of the wickets that fell suggested the surface's eccentricities were becoming more marked. Given that the visitors may have to bat something like five sessions to save this game, signs of low bounce were hardly what they wished to see and one can understand why their celebrations at each success were hardly riotous.
All of which makes Young and Lees' patience in defying Warwickshire's bowlers particularly praiseworthy. Young played the more attractive strokes and was slightly the more aggressive but the fact that he took exactly five hours to reach three figures perfectly reflects the New Zealander's diligence in what may well be his final innings for Durham. Lees complemented his opening partner perfectly and batted through a greatly rain-shortened day for his unbeaten 126 with the care of a man who understands the self-denial required of a sheet-anchor. Gritting it out cannot have been easy against an attack which was led in determined fashion by Liam Norwell, who took two wickets, and Oliver Hannon-Dalby, who deserved better than a blank day. The one consolation for all the bowlers was that at least they were able to keep warm when called into the attack. The fielders had no such luck on a cold afternoon.
The umpires, Michael Gough and Russell Warren, even wore black gloves, which made their fingers even more deathly when they had to raise them. As it was, Gough's decision to send Young on his way for 124 was the first of three leg-before verdicts that went in the visitors' favour during the afternoon. Scott Borthwick was lbw for 21 to a ball that kept low from Craig Miles and David Bedingham was bowled for 2 by an absolute shooter, thus giving Norwell his second success. However, since this reduced Bedingham's average for the season to a shade over 113 and his team were hardly in dire need of his runs, one doubts he will argue the world is treating him cruelly.
Next over Jack Burnham played inside Danny Briggs' arm ball and the home side had thus lost three wickets for 13 runs in six overs. However, any further action was prevented by a prolonged heavy shower that delayed play for over two hours. The players returned for 9.3 overs late in the evening session and the calmness with which Lees and Ned Eckersley played the Warwickshire seamers boded well for Durham's hopes of batting once in this game
But readers may be wondering what happened to the miscreant mentioned at the start of this piece. He was banned for life from keeping greyhounds but a similar stricture was not applied to his ownership of 20 ferrets. One wonders what mood the poor animals were in as dinner-time approached? And what manner of man, unaware of their precise diet, would then follow the Northern custom of ferret-legging and risk putting one of them down his trousers?