Cricket: Longley's stand lights up Durham

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Durham. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .305 & 173

Gloucestershire . . . . . . . . . . . . . .169 & 196-8

GATESHEAD FELL is not one of cricket's more romantic settings. It has a church at one end and a college of further education at the other, but neither would inspire the game's poets.

Whether Gloucestershire, who are more accustomed to playing in the shadow of the decidedly poetic Cheltenham College, should have been quite so desperate to leave the place, however, is another matter. In setting out to make 310 to beat Durham they played like men whose minds were being diverted, as though a certain starlet were wandering around the ground in the sort of dress she wears for premieres.

Within eight overs they had lost three wickets and, despite a fifth-wicket stand of 97, the highest of the match, wickets tumbled again thereafter in the sort of collapse more usually associated with Durham. Dean Hodgson went to the fourth ball of the innings, edging Anderson Cummins to the wicketkeeper. Five overs later Simon Hinks played a half-hearted shot which Wayne Larkins held moving smoothly to his right at second slip.

It has become fashionable this season to castigate players of the Larkins generation, who are 40 or more and allegedly preventing the advance of glorious youth. But the catch, preceded by his unbeaten century in Durham's first innings, was evidence, if it was needed, that the game would lose much more than a few wrinkles if it were the exclusive preserve of twentysomethings who are often not so glorious.

Durham probably took this theory to its limit in their first two years. But there is no doubt that Larkins and the veterans Phil Bainbridge and David Graveney have often steadied a rocky ship. They each gave Gloucestershire long, frequently noble service and looking at their former side now one wonders why the pair were permitted to depart.

Before Gloucestershire began their pursuit, if that is what it was, the importance of Chris Broad seemed plain. If he stayed they had a chance; if he went they had none. When he had his off-stump removed, half forward and undone by Simon Brown's swing, his side were 19 for three and looking, with every false stroke, the weakest batting side in the Championship.

The fourth-wicket pair resisted slightly more, without ever looking in control. Mark Alleyne duly edged John Wood on to his stumps. It was left to Tony Wright and Tim Hancock to provde some prolonged resistance. But when Hancock's half-century was ended in a marvellous spell by Wood, his other colleagues were only too willing to perish. Wood took five for 43, including four for 11 off 29 balls, in his crucial evening second spell.

The fourth first-class game at Gateshead, and probably the last, has been a bowler's match, which should not reflect on the pitch. There has been an array of undistinguished batting against bowling which has rarely bordered on the fearsome. The honourable exceptions were Larkins and, yesterday, Jon Longley. He made a century in his first innings for Durham and had followed that with a total of 29 in five innings. In assembling another half-century he was instrumental in giving Durham an important lead sufficient to be intimidating.

He accumulated watchfully most of the time but his drive and hook for fours from successive balls were two of the few strokes to brighten a cold morning which got colder. The leading Gloucestershire bowler was not, for once, the estimable Courtney Walsh, who fell two short of his fifth five-wicket haul in seven innings. It was Mike Smith, whose five for 40 was the best return of his career.