THE first sound of leather on willow is always pleasing and for Paul Collingwood the chance to get bat on ball was very welcome yesterday after a winter of coaching.
The Durham skipper began what he insists will be his final season by making his 17th first-class century for the county as they amassed 487 against Durham University at Chester-le-Street.
Collingwood now stands one ton behind second-placed Michael Di Venuto in the Durham list and after failing to reach three figures last year he will hope at least to draw level with the Tasmanian.
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Going in at 192 for four with the best bowler, Matt Milnes, showing signs of his heavy workload, it was hardly as testing as facing Glenn Mc- Grath and Brett Lee at Perth.
But after returning from Bangladesh last week it gave Collingwood the chance to acclimatise in his first knock of the season and some tasty early offerings quickly got him going.
He reached 50 off 49 balls and his hundred off 110 before departing for 102 when he drove to short extra cover.
Michael Richardson is not quite in Kumar Sangakkara’s class, but he will not willingly surrender the No 4 slot to the Sri Lankan star if Durham succeed in signing him.
Having had to settle for batting at eight last season, scoring two championship centuries, Richardson has been promoted into the position vacated by the release of Will Smith and scored 68 yesterday.
With the ball inevitably seaming around after the first day’s washout, batting was tricky when he went in as early as the seventh over with the score on 25 for two.
The students had a bowler of genuine first-class potential in Milnes, who trimmed Keaton Jennings’ off bail with the fourth ball of the day and had Scott Borthwick lbw for a sprightly 50 with the first ball of his second spell.
Milnes, from Nottingham, played one game for Durham seconds in Sussex last season.
He also went very close to bowling Phil Mustard in the first over after lunch, but after his promotion to No 5 the wicketkeeper began to flourish as the over-worked Milnes tired.
Mustard went on to make 89 against an attack in which Milnes was in a class of his own. By 2.30 he had bowled 17 overs, all downwind, conceding only nine runs in his opening eight-over spell and remaining frugal, while some were going for eight an over.
Even Jade Dernbach doesn’t do that.
It wasn’t easy for those struggling into the chilly breeze, as Liam Dixon found when Mark Stoneman pulled him for six in the day’s fourth over. Given the bowler’s struggles, it was a surprise to everyone, especially Stoneman, when Dixon produced a good one to hit off stump.
The same bowler was eventually given a go downwind in mid-afternoon and was promptly pulled high over mid-wicket for six by Collingwood, who had only just come to the crease after Richardson spooned a catch to long leg.
Mustard then hit two successive balls from left-arm spinner FreddieVan Den Burgh for six and it was obvious that, with Milnes rested, the fifth-wicket pair would be able to fill their boots.
They added 138 in 21 overs before Mustard edged a drive to slip off left-arm spinner Chaitanya Bishnoi.
It was Mustard’s highest first-class score since he made 101 at Worcester in May, 2011.
That was his fifth first-class century, which in 164 appearances is a modest return for one of his ability. To justify moving two places up the order Durham will want him to add more.
Durham included Gareth Breese because Borthwick has a slight side strain and there is a doubt about whether he will be able to bowl at Northampton next week.
That meant there was no place for Gordon Muchall and that will continue to be the case if Sangakkara does agree to come for six weeks.
Breese failed to take his chance of batting practice, making eight before pulling a long hop to cow corner.
At least everyone had the chance to bat with Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth enjoying themselves in a lastwicket stand of 66, Onions finishing one short of his careerbest on 40 not out.
In five overs’ batting the students reached seven without loss and on the final day today Durham will hope to give all the bowlers a useful workout.