County round-up: Smith brings terrible year to an end with unbeaten 153 for Durham

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The Independent Online

Will Smith went to the same school as Alastair Cook but there, of late, the similarities have ended. While Cook has just enjoyed the finest year of his career, batting England to a tremendous Ashes success Down Under, the last 12 months have not been kind to fellow Bedford boy Smith. The Durham man stepped down as captain just over a year ago and last season he featured only on an irregular basis for the then county champions.

Yesterday may, then, prove to be a turning point for Smith. The 28-year old hit an unbeaten 153 to leave Durham in a strong position against Warwickshire, on 348 for 3, at the end of the first day at Edgbaston. Coming into the game with a first-class average this season of 27.4, it was a hugely timely knock for the former Nottinghamshire man, not least because Mark Stoneman and Paul Collingwood are soon likely to be available for selection for Durham.

The North-east county have started the season in reasonable form, as have their opponents. Yesterday was not a good one for the Bears, though, for whom Irishman Boyd Rankin took most punishment. Smith – known, somewhat unimaginatively, as "Posh Kid" – began tentatively before finding his range off the back foot, and was well supported by Dale Benkenstein, who finished on 90 not out.

If Durham have started well, then Lancashire have easily exceeded all expectations. Top of the First Division at the start of play, they had at best a mixed day yesterday, though, being bowled out for 328 by Hampshire at the Rose Bowl. The Red Rose county had the in-form Karl Brown to thank for dragging them to that fairly respectable total as he hit 96 before being one of four Lancastrians to fall to Dominic Cork.

Cork, of course, is nearly 40. Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow is 21 and this is quickly looking like a breakhrough season for the Yorkshire wicketkeeper, who hit 136 for his side against Somerset at Taunton yesterday. Bairstow, who played for the England Lions last week, was bowled by Charl Willoughby and that wicket appeared to take the wind out of Yorkshire as they subsided from 305 for 4 to 358 all out.

Graham Napier continued his good recent form for Essex as he took 5 for 43 against Middlesex, who reached stumps on 316 for 6.