Durham grit gives Harmison hope

Durham 178 & 288-7 Yorkshire 313
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The Independent Online

It was touch and go for a while, but one way or another Durham put enough runs on the board to give Steve Harmison one last chance to advertise his readiness for an England recall before this match concludes today.

Still 109 runs behind at the start yesterday, the title-holders underlined the value of hard graft to eke out a lead which, though it might be difficult to defend, may allow their spearhead bowler to continue his fine run of form, perhaps making his case to play in the second Test at Lord's irresistible.

Building on foundations laid with craft and diligence by Michael Di Venuto (84) in the first half of the day, one Durham batsman after another set himself for a long occupation of the crease and most succeeded, none more obstinately than their former captain (and stand-in for this match), Dale Benkenstein, whose gave a three-hour masterclass in defensive batting before, thrusting his front pad down the pitch, he was leg before to the leg-spinner, Adil Rashid, for 36.

It meant a day with his feet up for Harmison, whose most energetic task was to fetch ice creams for his pals on the visitors' balcony. He was not talking up his chances of being given the nod when the line-up for Thursday is announced today, even after taking five wickets here on Saturday on a pitch of no great pace. Then again, neither was he talking them down, preferring instead not to share his thoughts with the wider world until the selectors have announced the players required to show up at Lord's.

To be fair to him, lest he be accused of rudeness, it was a position he took apologetically. Going about his business quietly, letting his performance on the field do his talking for him, is a choice made in the belief that blowing his own trumpet is helpful neither to the selectors nor the current members of the team.

In any event, the message put across on the field did not need his words to embellish it. Bowling genuinely fast, Harmison made the right impression on James Whitaker, the selector in attendance, not least because of the control he maintained over his line. Although his later spells were not so penetrative as his first, which claimed three wickets in the space of 15 balls, he at least forced the batsmen to play at most deliveries, which is not always the case. He is getting a good few out as well, 32 in his last five first-class matches.

Only Andrew Flintoff has looked as venomous for England over the last five days and Anthony McGrath, the Yorkshire captain, admitted he would find it hard to leave Harmison out at Lord’s, were the choice his to make.

“In the form he is in at the moment, yes, I would have him in,” McGrath said. “There are not many bowlers in the world with his attributes. He can get things out of a pitch that other bowlers can’t.”

That he has the chance, perhaps, to bowl Durham to victory today is purely down to the robustness of their batting yesterday, in the face of some disciplined Yorkshire bowling.They had edged in front through Di Venuto's 109-run partnership with Kyle Coetzer, suffered a wobble after lunch when a double bowling change by Anthony McGrath saw Coetzer bowled by a Matthew Hoggard inswinger and Di Venuto bottom-edge Tim Bresnan on to his stumps.

Gordon Muchall became Hoggard's third victim but Benkenstein and Ian Blackwell doggedly put on another 53 in 25 overs before Ajmal Shahzad, the pick of the Yorkshire attack, moved one away to have Blackwell caught behind. Durham's lead, with three wickets standing, is 153.

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