Cricket: Gower offsets the dour

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Hampshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .192-1


BY THE time a bleak day brought an early conclusion yesterday, David Gower had carefully played himself into a semblance of form and Durham were still wondering when the good things were going to start for them.

Stockton-on-Tees may be one of the game's lesser-known outposts (a friend of the late Ian Peebles thought it was a golf manual) but it may be a while before it stages a more significant contest. Both sides need a pick- me-up, Hampshire after conceding 500 and losing, Durham after making 500 and losing.

The meeting of the 500 club was not particularly merry because the leaden, lowering day was matched by a sluggish pitch offering little to bowlers or batsmen; David Graveney's uncommon decision to bowl first in a four-day game probably owed as much to the weather forecast as to any hope that the morning juices might help his bowlers.

In the event, not a lot happened but then not every pair of openers is as phlegmatic as Paul Terry and Tony Middleton, whose down-to-earth approach - take singles but not chances - enabled them to build a platform with a stand of 134. The bat was not often passed and when Middleton did get a nick, off Anderson Cummins at 58, the wicketkeeper could not quite hang on.

Even on this pitch, Cummins had managed to hit Andrew Fothergill's gloves with a hearty thwack and Durham just cannot wait to see him on a bouncy surface. However, he disappeared later with a strained thigh and is finding the transition from Antigua to the North-east - from St John's to long johns - a formidable test of the sinews.

Cricket's version of sod's law ensured that it was a long hop from Phil Bainbridge that brought Middleton's downfall, adroitly caught by Paul Parker, and a resumption of the Gower-Ian Botham sideshow gave the frozen crowd a much-needed divertissement.

Botham had long since decided length and line were his main allies in these conditions. But, by accident or design, when Gower appeared he often dropped short and Gower picked off a series of effortless boundaries after his early footwork had indicated concentration after making only 21 runs in three innings. At the end, he returned to jog several laps of the ground in aid of Cancer Research . . . with no selector in sight.