County Durham. In many ways it reminds me of New Zealand; next door to a far larger and far more self-promoting neighbour, it is quietly satisfied in its superiority in the eyes of those in the know. Both places I could quite happily live, although it takes a bloomin’ long time to get to where you want to go if that’s your starting point.
Whilst New Zealand boasts of ‘four seasons in one day’ the climate at Chester-le-Street is also changeable. When the sun is out it can be pleasantly warm for the time of year. But as cloud forms the temperature drops and when the Newcastle Doctor blows in off the North Sea after tea from the Lumley Castle end this most northerly of all Test grounds can be a very cold place indeed. If someone asks you what clothes to wear to the cricket in Durham the correct answer is “all of them”.
But the coldness of the climate is matched by the warmth of the welcome. Even the spaces in the car park outside the ground are generously wide; handy when extracting yourself from the car dressed as the Michelin man. And the locals do love their cricket. Geordies and Mackems put their footballing differences aside, united in their support of the youngest first-class county. When the county fixture list comes out it is this away fixture I always mark in my diary.
Somerset win the toss and bowl. I am sure the home side would’ve done the same. Even on the sunniest days the pitches at Chester-Le-Street offer assistance to the bowlers, and there was plenty of cloud around on day 1. Jamie Overton had replaced injured twin Craig, Peter Trego was back in the side for Alfonso Thomas who had had a late fitness test, but Somerset’s attack looked very similar to the one who had played Yorkshire at Taunton the previous week with Johan Mybergh’s occasional offies providing the spin attack.
There is plenty of seam movement and some swing for the bowlers. Unfortunately there is also plenty of short, wide or overpitched balls for the batsmen and the advantage of winning the toss is wasted somewhat. 119-3 at lunch and honours about even.
Keaton Jennings, son of the former South Africa coach Ray, played a watchful and patient innings for his 80. It took a very good ball, which bounced a little more than expected, by Lewis Gregory to prise him out soon after tea. Gregory was the pick of the Somerset bowlers with good spells either side of tea and was deserving of his four-wicket haul.
Jennings departure at 222-6 left Gareth Breese at the crease, a name to strike a chill through the heart of many a Somerset supporter. It is almost ten years since Breese made his best-ever Championship score of 165*, seeing Durham over the line by one wicket when chasing 451, having been 95-5, but I remember the mixture of admiration and horror as I watched on that sunny Taunton day like it was last week. James Hildreth and Paul Collingwood are the only other survivors from that day although Durham’s then captain, Jon Lewis, is now their coach. I’m sure they wheel Breese out as soon as they see the Somerset coach turn off the A1(M).
Breese puts paid to any Somerset hopes of polishing the innings off quickly, putting on 65 for the eighth wicket with useful tail ender Harrisson and Durham drag themselves past the three-batting-point mark, eventually being all out for 308. I reckon this is at least 50 runs over par. Extras contributed 32 runs to the total; 30 of these no-balls. No-ball-itis spread through the Somerset bowling attack like chickenpox and only Gregory of the pace attack was immune. The majority of these were bowled from the Lumley Castle end, where there was a fairish breeze (as against a Breese) at the bowlers’ back. In addition to this Meschede goes off the field with what we hear is a possible side strain.
Somerset had seven overs to bat at the end of the day. Jones and Trescothick survived unscathed though not without a moment of concern as an lbw shout against Trescothick is turned down by the umpire in the final over of the day.
The morning skies are a bit clearer on day 2. Now I’m not sure it is ever what you would call a good day to bat when the 22 yards in question is at the Emirates ICG and the month is April, but it was probably as good as Somerset were likely to get.
Durham’s bowlers however were not of as generous a disposition as their Somerset counterparts and the Onions/Rushworth opening partnership gave a good lesson in how to bowl on this ground – bowl a fullish length on or just outside off stump and let the conditions do the rest. Somerset were soon reeling at 43-4. Kieswetter (35) with first Myburgh (22) then a belligerent Trego (48) slowed the tumble of wickets without managing to put a significant partnership together – Trego was probably extremely lucky not to be out caught down the leg side first ball (the co-ordinated appeal by the Durham players was a thing of beauty).
Once Trego departed so did all resistance and Somerset were all out for 185. Compton, hampered by a neck spasm and batting at 8, was last man out but could consider himself unlucky to be given lbw after seeming to hit the leather off it. Injury followed insult for the injured Compo as he earned a post-match slapped wrist from the ECB for dissent at the decision which from my vantage point seemed to amount to a baleful look and exaggeratedly raised eyebrows. I doubt if there was any headshaking, what with his sore neck and all.
Halfway through the match in cricketing terms Durham have a 123 run first innings lead. For anyone at the same fixture last year it was like deja vu all over again. With an attack shorn of the injured Meschede Somerset plug away and pick off Durham wickets at regular intervals, reducing them to 152-7 at the close of play, but the lead of 275 looks as though it may be enough already and the rampant no-ball disease hasn’t entirely responded to remedial treatment.
With day 3 falling victim to the weather there was little to do other than play spot-the-castle through the thick mist. Day 4 dawned bright. To be honest I thought (a) Durham had enough runs on the board and (b) they would declare at the last possible moment before play started, sending an unprepared Somerset in to bat on a pitch that had been shrouded by the covers for some 36 hours. With pessimism masquerading as reverse psychology I paid for just 4 hours parking outside the ground. Paul Collingwood obviously didn’t share my views and decided to bat on for nearly an hour, adding 61 runs whilst taking 12 overs – plus two more for the change of innings – out of the day. Somerset needed 337 to win or probably more realistically to bat out the minimum 82 overs left in the day.
Defeat looked likely as Somerset were reduced to 92-4 with more than 50 overs left in the day. But in Kieswetter, Compton – restored to his familiar number 3 position after a day off duty and presumably considerable laying on of hands by the physio team – found a batsman who could stay with him as he compiled a chanceless, magnificent, don’t-you-forget-about-me 100*. Kieswetter’s innings of 78* certainly wasn’t chanceless – he was dropped by Borthwick at slip when on just nine – but he proved the perfect companion to Compton (not for the first time) and by the latter stage of his innings was hitting boundaries for fun.
But by the time the match was more or less safe the target was tantalisingly out of reach. Compton’s century prompted the offer of a draw from Durham which was accepted. I admit to a feeling of ‘what if’ for a little while afterwards but Somerset would’ve needed another 91 runs off 9 overs. In Championship cricket with no fielding restrictions that is some ask.
Collingwood had bowled Borthwick, Breese and himself in the latter stages of the session as he chased wickets and the win in gloomy light that may have forced them off had he continued with the faster bowlers. You can be sure had Somerset pushed for the win then Rushworth would’ve been back on with one of the other seamers. Wickets may have fallen or, more likely, the umpires would’ve called a halt to proceedings due to the light.
Somerset had been off the pace in this match since midway through the final session on day one. To come out of it with a draw must be considered a good result, and certainly an improvement from performances when in a similar position last season.
Oh and I did remember to go back and feed the car park machine for a few extra hours at tea! Reverse psychology is the way to go.
Our thanks to Nicky for her entertaining review of four days at Chester-le-Street. Youcan follow Nicky on Twitter at @somersetbagpuss