Already resigned to losing Graham Onions when England name their first Ashes Test line-up in a little under three weeks' time, Durham may be secretly keeping their fingers crossed that the national selectors remain unconvinced about Steve Harmison, even though one of their number saw the fast-bowling enigma take five Lancashire wickets here yesterday.
Harmison finished with five for 46 as Lancashire, chasing 274, were dismissed for 135 in their second innings. The three-day defeat did not so much ask questions about their prospects in the Championship, as highlight Durham's. Two emphatic victories in a row have put the title holders back on top of Division One, although Nottinghamshire will be in front again if they beat Hampshire at the Rose Bowl today.
James Whitaker, the England selector who was present here, is unlikely to have gone away with an unqualified endorsement of Harmison's well-being. What he saw was frustratingly familiar, a combination of balls that could safely be ignored and others that were practically unplayable.
Those batsmen singled out for the latter were particularly unlucky, as the Lancashire opener Mal Loye clearly felt when, having batted for an hour and a half, he suddenly found the ball zeroing in on his chin and could do nothing but divert it off the bat handle to third slip. He swiped at the turf angrily as he trudged off.
Paul Horton had been seen off by a similar delivery. South Africa's Ashwell Prince – in his last match for Lancashire – went lbw before François du Plessis edged another difficult ball to Phil Mustard behind the stumps. Glen Chapple became victim number five, nicking a drive to first slip to give Harmison nine in the match, but whether it is enough to hasten a Test recall remains to be seen.
Indeed, there were several performances to challenge his right to be considered even the bowler of this match. Taking advantage of a pitch notable for steep bounce – ideal for the tall pacemen leading both attacks – Onions shone again, his seven-wicket match haul giving him 41 for the season in first-class matches alone.
Then there was Saj Mahmood, in Test exile since January 2007, who returned a career-best six for 30 as Durham's second innings subsided to 145, supplementing his dismissal of the top three on Friday by taking three of the remaining four wickets yesterday, including a brilliant return catch to end Ian Blackwell's defiant 74.
Andrew Flintoff's five-ball duck (to go with a first-innings three) suggested his batting needs some work but his bowling on his comeback after knee surgery was more than encouraging. A brilliant diving catch by Du Plessis gave him Harmison's wicket for the second time in two days yesterday, and six for the match.
"As far as building towards the Ashes is concerned, Andrew is in a very good place," said the Lancashire coach, Peter Moores.Reuse content