Paul Edwards witnesses a remarkable first day at Liverpool
We have reached the generous heart of the English cricket season. A balmy April can only just be remembered and mellow September afternoons can barely be glimpsed.
Sefton's farmland looked the very image of abundance on the train from Birkdale to Aigburth this morning and the walk down the lane to the ground was rich with the heavy fragrances of summer. The sky was a cloudless blue when the captains tossed up at 10.20a.m. The press tent boasted a number of journos who had abandoned their fleeces and trainers for shorts and sandals.
Well, so much for overconfidence in the English weather. It is now mid-afternoon and the temperature has fallen almost as quickly as Lancashire's wickets did in this morning's steamy heat. Woollies and jackets have been fetched from cars and Durham are 46 for three in reply to Lancashire's 84 all out. Rain is forecast for later in the day.
The Aigburth crowd were generous in their praise for Callum Thorp a hour ago and quite rightly too. The Durham cricketer used the conditions beautifully, scarcely bowling a loose delivery as he collected figures of six for 20 from 13.2 overs. Batsmen were got out; they didn't, in the majority of cases, surrender their wickets.
This is very much a top of the table game and it will take more than an unexpected chill to disturb the crowd's attention. The points gained will probably have a key bearing on the destiny of the County Championship, and the spectators are rapt as they watch Gordon Muchall and Dale Benkenstein attempt to secure a first innings lead.
Having supplied the best bowler of the game in Callum Thorp, Durham have also provided the most accomplished batsman in Dale Benkenstein. The Zimbabawean is 43 not out, a major contribution in a match in which reaching twenty seems a significant achievement. The visitors' lead is now over fifty, but I suspect this game has plenty more surprises in store for us.
As might be expected on days like this, discussion in the press tent centres on the pitch. The consensus, I think, is that the conditions were very favourable to swing bowling this morning and quite useful for seam this afternoon, but they don't entirely explain the loss of eighteen wickets for 186 runs. Nobody, including the ECB's Pitch Liaison Officer, Peter Walker, is blaming the groundsman in the slightest.
Astonishingly, in the context of events earlier in the day, no wicket has fallen for nearly 22 overs. In journalists' parlance, this is now a Dale Benkenstein story. Having taken 137 off Lancashire's attack at the Riverside, Durham's No5 is now 80 not out and has added over 70 for the ninth wicket with Graham Onions.
A day that began in hot sunshine ended with the players coming off for bad light. By then, however, Dale Benkenstein had become the second visiting player to receive a standing ovation from the Aigburth crowd, having made 83 not out in 173 minutes of unremitting concentration.
Durham's lead of 102 - 18 more than Lancashire's first innings total - was reduced by a single Paul Horton bounday before the players came off, so at least the local hero will not be mithered overnight by the possibility of collecting a pair in his adopted home city. He will want much more significant achievements to his credit tomorrow.
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh
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