Good signs, despite opening-game draw - Around the Wicket

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(5491066)

First published in Sport

SO near and yet so far.

Any heroic last wicket stand, successful or otherwise, will invariably conjure up images of Lee and Flintoff at Edgbaston in 2005 or the miraculous defiance of Panesar and Anderson at Cardiff in 2009.

It’s perhaps a little grand to place the last wicket stand of Newton and Azharullah at Wantage Road in that category but it was a suitably stubborn and deflating end to a game Durham will be extremely disappointed not to have won against a Northamptonshire side who were barely able to field a senior eleven.

While those well-worn clichés of the sound of willow on leather undoubtedly mark the start of the season, the myriad of ways to follow such games away from home gives the modern cricket fan something which is a far cry from continually waiting for Teletext to reload.

Even when unable to follow Radio Newcastle’s coverage, the incessant buzzing of phone app alerts and the maniacal refreshing of Twitter, with journalists, bloggers, eager fans all bombarding you with wickets, dropped catches and pictures of lunch keeps you occupied.

Cricket on this level remains social and now seems like an integral part of the season.

Back in the physical world, Northamptonshire will no doubt spend much of the season hovering around the relegation scrap although Durham shouldn’t be too downhearted after controlling the a game on a slow, low pitch that offered very little to the bowlers.

They will be particularly buoyed by all of the top order batsmen, with the exception of Mark Stoneman, making some kind of score, with Michael Richardson’s two half centuries in his new position at four the most promising performance with the bat.

The distinct lack of strength in depth with regards to Durham’s batsmen, means that the top six will have ample opportunities to prove their worth in their current positions.

Even Gareth Breese’s rather unexpected return to First Class cricket on the back of doubts over Scott Borthwick’s bowling fitness, looked a shrewd move for his batting alone, despite being somewhat overlooked with the ball.

While Breese, especially in one day cricket, has been an important all-round talent for Durham, the club’s focus on bringing through well-rounded talent continues apace.

Usman Arshad’s improvement in pace, coupled with his promising showings with the bat at the end of last season had him marked as the obvious player to join Stokes and Borthwick in that bracket.

Indeed John Hastings’ signing means that Durham seem intent on packing the middle order with all-rounders.

Towards the bottom of the order, Jamie Harrison’s showing with the bat made him look like he could handily fulfil that role at nine, one which requires the occasional blasted thirty or so and not simply be tail end fodder.

Factor in a similar skill set when Mark Wood returns to fitness, there may be few genuine players who you’d look at as incapable with the bat.

Even Keaton Jennings is starting to be shown a little trust with the ball, something which Durham will need if Paul Collingwood has decided against bowling in his twilight years.

Yet the one area of concern will remain Scott Borthwick’s bowling if they face another slow wicket.

He undoubtedly needs to overs to progress his career but you do wonder how much he would be trusted in games where the scores are significantly more tight.

No doubt conditions will be much more seam friendly in the two upcoming home games, with results eminently more likely as a result.

While it was frustrating that they couldn’t force one this time, there is plenty of optimism for the season ahead.

JAMES TIERNAN

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