First win of season leaves more questions than answers – Around The Wicket

CRICKET: Durham v Lancashire. Durham's Chris Rushworth bowling prior to taking the match winning wicket. Picture: TOM BANKS (7298360)

CRICKET: Durham v Lancashire. Durham's Ben Stokes bowling. Picture: TOM BANKS (7298362)

CRICKET: Durham batsman Scott Borthwick in action against Lancashire at Chester le Street. Picture: DAVID WOOD (7239237)

CRICKET: Durham batsman Scott Borthwick in action against Lancashire at Chester le Street. Picture: DAVID WOOD (7239242)

First published in Sport

GOOD things come to those who wait.

And it has certainly seemed like a long wait since Durham’s last County Championship win, with weather both frustrating and saving them in their early season toils.

Yet as Jos Buttler gathered a head of steam on the final day of the match against Lancashire, there grew a distinct feeling that we may well have to wait even longer.

Thankfully, Buttler’s excellent century was in vein but the narrow margin of victory leaves more questions than answers.

The glass half full view of the game would see a side who battled on against the problematically flattening Riverside pitch and ground down a resilient Lancashire side through dogged bowling, especially from the acclimatising John Hastings and most pleasingly last week’s boo-boy Chris Rushworth.

They could point to the record breaking tenth wicket stand between an unusually patient Phil Mustard, who played against type to rescue a precarious first innings slump, and debutant Paul Coughlin, who looked anything but a number 10 batsman.

His bowling too showed some promise in the first innings and he is yet another of Durham’s recent academy graduates of recent years to look like an all-round cricketer, following in the footsteps of Ben Stokes, Scott Borthwick, Keaton Jennings, Mark Wood, Jamie Harrison, Usman Arshad, Ryan Pringle et al who are far more than simply single skilled specialists.

Indeed, you do wonder how exceptional a talent you would have to be in a single skill to get through Durham’s academy structure, although Borthwick’s 92 in the second innings reinforced that idea as no matter how England’s selectors view him, he is far more a batsman who bowls rather than vice versa.

Yet for all the signs that the future is positive and under will presumably continue to blossom under Geoff Cook’s guidance, there are a raft of issues plaguing Durham’s title defence.

There’s no doubting that Durham’s usual strength in the pace bowling department has been sorely tested this season, with taking 20 wickets at home being unduly problematic.

Injuries have of course played their part, with Graham Onions, Wood, Harrison and Arshad all struggling.

Prior to his self-inflicted injury, Durham would have anticipated seeing little of Ben Stokes this summer, yet it appears the England selectors may just have a had a point when they decided that Durham should see a lot more of him than first thought due to the lack of overs under his belt.

At times against Lancashire he was expensive and well below his best and has gone from being an obvious England starter to having a battle on his hands to regain his place in the Test side.

Unfortunately for him, he not only has to battle Moeen Ali’s batting but the distinct lack of a stand-out spinner in English cricket in order to force his way back into the team.

On the subject of the elusive spinner, the transformation of the Riverside pitch from something lively and reliably low scoring to an increasingly flat and lifeless wicket means Durham’s traditional seam strengths can no longer be taken as a given.

While it is not Borthwick’s fault that he hasn’t had the necessary overs in recent years to fully develop his leg spin, he too was unduly expensive in this game at a time which should have been his to shine.

The Riverside is unlikely to become as dry and flat as Taunton overnight, the lack of real top quality spin must be gnawing away at the back of the management’s mind.

Yet for all this, perhaps it is time to enjoy the win and starting looking upwards, rather than down in the Championship.

JAMES TIERNAN

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