IT SEEMED strange that you could take a short stroll up the road to Chester-le-Street Cricket Club yesterday and see a number of spectators watching the action there, and yet no fans are allowed to attend this fixture in the Bob Willis Trophy.
Such is the inconsistency of the government’s coronavirus strategy, which is so confusing that even the virus itself is probably starting to wonder where it can and cannot go and what it is and is not allowed to do.
While folk relaxed beyond the boundary at Ropery Lane, where Chester-le-Street were playing Durham Cricket Academy in the North East Premier League, swathes of empty seats looked down on this match, as though rumours had circulated of a bomb scare.
Good numbers also congregated in nearby Riverside Park, enjoying a traditional family day out, but apparently it is unsafe to house any spectators in a county ground with a capacity of some 15,000.
It will be of no consolation to those denied the opportunity to watch this game – and indeed all those being played in county cricket at present, unless they have access to the appropriate live stream – that the entertainment so far has been compelling.
The old adage that low-scoring matches are often the most interesting is an adage for a reason, primarily because both sides usually have a chance of winning.
So they do here, although you would much rather be in Yorkshire’s position. Going into day three, Durham are 106-2 in their second innings, 10 runs ahead, and making more of a nuisance of themselves than had perhaps seemed likely.
Yorkshire’s task on a blustery second morning, one that had watery sunshine and the odd spot of drizzle, was to build on an overnight total of 84-4 in reply to Durham’s first innings 103.
The visitors had turned a 19-run deficit into a 17-run lead by the time that they lost their first wicket, Dawid Malan brilliantly caught behind off the inside edge by wicketkeeper Ned Eckersley, who dived to his right to take the ball one-handed inches off the turf off Chris Rushworth’s bowling.
Malan’s maiden first-class innings for Yorkshire was thus curtailed at 30, an innings that contained five boundaries in 51 balls faced.
One of those balls, when Malan had but two to his name, had drawn a convinced appeal from bowler Ben Raine and his colleagues on the first evening, which would have left Yorkshire 68-5 and first innings bragging rights in the balance. Umpire Neil Pratt, however, was unmoved in what felt like a pivotal moment.
Just as pleasing on the eye as Malan was young Harry Brook, who stroked seven boundaries on a second morning on which the occasional spits and spots accounted for three overs.
There were stylish whips through mid-wicket, cover-drives, square-drives and plenty of handsome strokes in general from Brook, who looked set for a big score when he miscued a pull to deep-ish mid-wicket to depart for 41.
Brook was joint-highest scorer in the innings along with Tom Kohler-Cadmore, with seven batsmen reaching double figures. His dismissal sparked a collapse as Yorkshire fell from 154-5 to 199 all-out, a slightly disappointing total given its foundation.
Jordan Thompson left a ball from Raine that pinned him so plumb in front that he walked off before the umpire raised his finger. Jonny Tattersall was bowled shouldering arms to Raine off the final delivery before lunch, while Matthew Fisher carved Rushworth to mid-on four balls after the restart.
It was left to the last-wicket pair of Ben Coad and first-class debutant Jack Shutt to take Yorkshire’s lead into potentially match-winning range, the pair adding 35 before Coad dangled his bat at Paul Coughlin and was caught behind.
Yorkshire missed out on a batting point by a single run, but Coad played nicely for 28 from 31 balls including five boundaries –three of them in the space of four balls off Raine, whom he threaded through mid-wicket, towelled over mid-off and tonked over mid-on.
Leading by 96 with 50 overs left in the day, Yorkshire smelt blood when they returned to the field.
But as bright sunshine suddenly fell upon the Riverside, illuminating the splendour of Lumley Castle high beyond the scoreboard, they were frustrated by an easing pitch and some resilient batting second time around by the hosts, who had been unable to cope with Yorkshire’s collective excellence on the first day.
Alex Lees, taking guard well outside his off stump, led the way with an unbeaten 58 from 150 balls with five fours, the former Yorkshire left-hander adding 47 with Sean Dickson for the first wicket.
Steve Patterson broke that stand by having Dickson caught behind off an inside edge by Tattersall, who then threw down the stumps at the non-striker’s end to run out Cameron Steel when he tried a third run after playing at ball out towards Coad at third man.
Yorkshire introduced Shutt’s off-spin just before the close, but Lees and David Bedingham held firm in a match deserving of the presence of appreciative crowds.
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