Paul Edwards at Liverpool
"It's not the despair Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand."
Lancashire fans could perhaps relate to Brian Stimpson's words in the film Clockwise as they watched Paul Collingwood and Will Smith edge Durham nearer to their modest victory target this morning. Supporters can just about deal with not expecting their team to win; it is being taunted with the prospect of victory they sometimes find so excruciating. Especially, let us admit it, when that taunting is part of a broader canvas stretching over a season, and an even broader one encompassing 77 years.
Old Trafford diehards might have expected their hopes to be frustrated by Collingwood. Whenever I see the 35-year-old all-rounder coming out to bat, I remember the 2009 Ashes Test in Cardiff, where he defied the Australian attack for 344 minutes, facing 245 balls for his 74 runs. By the end of the series, everyone was talking about the Anderson/Panesar tenth-wicket stand, Stuart Broad's bowling or Andrew Flintoff's last hurrah. Not that many remembered the importance of Collingwood's broad bat or his mental steel when faced with Australians who expected to retain the urn.
Adversity brings out the best in this admirable cricketer. When Graham Onions failed in his night-watchman role yesterday evening, you felt that Collingwood almost relished the pressure unexpectedly placed upon him. The fall of three late wickets, a fired-up attack and a briefly exultant crowd provided just the environment he needed to give of his considerable best.
Collingwood has put aside his England disappointment, he has recovered from his early season loss of form and he is now committed to steering Durham to further honours. Amid their dismay at the increasing probability of Lancashire's defeat, the Liverpoool crowd still found time to pay tribute to him. It was good to hear.
It took a piece of athletic brilliance from Steven Croft in the gully to get rid of Collingwood. Yet it was perhaps appropriate that even that extraordinary snare put me in mind of a phrase the Durham batsman himself had once passed on to the press corps about the fielding of his onetime colleague Jimmy Maher. When the Queenslander pouched a slip catch, he used to murmur contentedly: "Like a seagull round a hot chip". Croft's fielding is characterised by routine brilliance; the miraculous now comes as standard.
And when Collingwood had departed to a catch which he admitted he did not expect to be taken, Dale Benkenstein took over. If anything the Zimababwean's bat looked even wider than that of Shotley Bridge's most famous son. It made one wonder how, even in these turbulent times, he has never played Test cricket for somebody. In three Championship innings against Lancashire in 2011, Benkenstein has notched a little matter of 280 runs for once out. Seasonal and other landmarks were passed as his side's victory became next to inevitable: when he reached 44, Benkenstein passed a thousand first-class runs for the season; when he cut Gary Keedy to the boundary to complete Durham's win, it brought him to a thousand in the Championship and also made him Durham's leading first-class run scorer, passing the 7,854 racked up by Jon Lewis.
It is always disappointing for professional cricketers to lose matches; it is galling to see catches dropped; but it is no disgrace to lose to a side featuring players of the quality of Paul Collingwood and Dale Benkenstein. Cricket's irresistible circus moves on.
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh
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